Friday, December 29, 2006

Animals, part 1

Fiction International is "the only literary journal in the United States emphasizing formal innovation and progressive politics. [Its] thematic issues feature controversial fiction, nonfiction, indeterminate prose, and visuals by leading writers and artists from around the world."

Fiction International is sponsoring its next theme issue on animals. The deadline for submissions was December 15. Even though I had written nothing about animals that I could send to the journal, the idea gives me the spur to write about my cats and their life experiences.

Francis was a good, gray, wool cat whose father was likely Himalayan, which accounts for the way he strutted the barriers of the yard, walking on fences and edges, as if he had read the deed. Fran died on March 31, 2005 at the age of nearly 16. His birthday was May 8, 1989. We still miss him and end up lavishing too much motherly attention on his successor, Walter (Wally), whom we picked at the Humane Society on January 22, 2006, almost one year ago. Wally's papers indicate that he was 8 months at the time of adoption, placing his birthday some time in May 2005.

Animals, part 2

When Francis died, he died twice. He had lost half his body weight -- 13 pounds down to 7 pounds -- and he had lost the hair on the sides of his body due to renal failure. He had made a trip to the hospital just a few weeks before that and had regained half a pound after a feline version of dialysis. He weighed 10 pounds again within a few days back at home, then boom, his bottom suddenly fell out; his weight plummeted and his hair fell out. On his final day, he ate, drank water, visited the litter box and even went outdoors.

Fran was an outdoorsman cat and used to hunt each day as if he were on pest patrol; he headed out each morning like a fireman. The last day was no exception, even though his walking was weak and impaired. We were very fortunate in Francis that he was never attacked outdoors or hit by a car, even though he shared the woods with deer, raccoons, foxes, owls, hawks, and later a coyote. He survived a scare with neighbor dogs once in Houston, and that is the lesson that taught him to stay in his own territory and not stray. He led an adventurous life without injury.

On his last day, we lay in bed together looking into each other's eyes, something we liked to do anyway, and suddenly his eyes glazed over, and he wasn't there anymore, even though he was still breathing. I got up, called the vet, and we made an immediate appointment to bring him in. Emergency resuscitation would keep him alive over the weekend, she said when I got there. She estimated he could live one month more with constant dialysis. Since I wasn't paying the vet bill myself, I estimated what it might cost. The weekend alone would cost $750. I asked the vet about euthanasia. We began to discuss it. She asked whether I was satisfied with the time I had spent with him until recently.

Yes, I said.

Since Fran had the chronic rather than acute type of renal failure, we had managed to have a lot of quality time together, to the point of literally falling in love with each other after my other cat, Lucy, had died in 2001, also of chronic renal failure, a common condition in older cats. I reluctantly agreed to have what was left of Francis put to sleep, as much as I wished he might die naturally on his own. His body was still too strong otherwise, and he might go on breathing, his heart beating, but never return to consciousness.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Animals, part 3

The vet put an IV in Fran's arm and injected him with a lethal dose of barbiturate. Fran's head folded over his paws, and he slept.

Because he died twice, once at home and once at the vet, his eyes and mind first, his body second, there were a series of visions after that. He appeared to me as a ghost, growing ever woolier and wilder, until he looked in the passage like a wolverine.

In the winter Francis sat in the utility room downstairs, in the corner of the room called the sump area, a dugout rough and rusty looking, where the pipes all meet in vertical poles. His winter hunting was limited mostly to indoors, since he disliked snow on his feet and left the outdoor animals alone during the cold months. He captured about three mice indoors per year by staking out the sump area of the utility room. This hunting of his reminded me of ice fishing. He sat there in the dark in the middle of the night, concentrating steadily, staring straight forward. I would come upon him doing his night ritual if I went into the utility room to do something -- throw away something in the large wastebasket or get a hammer or screwdriver or change the litter box. There he might be, staring straight ahead, prepared to kill mice, or mice in theory. The number of times he managed to do that -- catch mice indoors -- reminds me of publishing, the number of times writers manage to do that, though they hunt indoors and fish for it.

The day after he died a mouse ran at me, where I stood in the middle of the office; I was in fact trying to think of a beginning of a life without Fran, without Lucy. The mouse ran directly down the center of the hallway, veered into the office, and charged almost at my feet then turned away and ran to the utility room. Aghast, I thought we might be infested now with mice. Fortunately, that is not what happened. There was one mouse only, and when it died of starvation in the utility room, it smelled.

Immediately following upon Fran's death, rabbits, among his favorites for hunting, gathered in the back yard under the birdfeeder and stood there. They were not hopping, not running, and not hiding; they were standing about and lingering, loitering. I had never seen rabbits loitering before, regarding their cousins.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Fortunes in cookies, 2006

"It's kind of fun to do the impossible."
"Pure religion is Love in action."
"Move forward."
"Friends are more valuable than money."
"Life Is Art, Your Every Thought And Action Is Your Unique Creation."
"If you don't do it excellently, don't do it at all."
"Good ideas come free of charge."

Winter at Christmas

At home I give soliloquys about writing, theater, art, and religion. Christmas this year is vacant. We are glad that it snowed. The ground before that -- and the sky -- seemed barren. Snow is welcome and reassures us of the season.

Substance at stake

This is my only addiction: to tobacco. I drink coffee, too, but have studied and learned that coffee is high in anti-oxidants. Perhaps health gurus might enlighten us on that subject. The cigarettes I smoke are the best ones available: Nat Sherman and American Spirits and have no harmful chemical additives. I switched to those ten years ago. My goal is to cut down on smoking until I smoke only three packs per week instead of one pack per day. I still sometimes enjoy them (the good cigarettes), but I dislike the scratchy feeling in my vocal area. Otherwise, I have no health problems related to smoking. My teeth are strong and clean-looking. I have gone to the dentist twice per year since earliest childhood and have had few dental problems. My mouth looks a little slack since I gave up wearing lipstick as I used to -- all day. I wear lipstick now if I'm going somewhere interesting.

I drink one glass of wine on holidays, the last time was on Thanksgiving. The wine was red. I like Rolling Rock and am willing to drink as many as three of those if a good and kind man is buying, but that rarely happens these days. Technically, we ought to consume three glasses of clean beer or wine -- homemade elderberry without sulfides is great -- per day. I would find that difficult to do, even though it is a health recommendation, due to what are called blue laws in our state. Religion in urban and suburban Minnesota consists mostly in policing and hospitalizing for real and presumed alcohol use, and it produces much sickening revenue for the cities, which would be put to better use if given to the volunteer force. Really we suffer a lack of health awareness about alcohol and stupidly wall off joy and interest in life. Mayo Clinic approves the level of drinking outlined above; I would include clean (organic) beer and wine (3 glasses of wine or bottles of beer) as a food group, to prevent heart disease. I disapprove of people doing too much exercise and exercise for vanity and personal power and prefer walking, biking, swimming, ice skating, and yoga for myself.

All is good so far without medications since September. I have stabilized at 125 pounds. I would rather my weight were higher but am willing to continue to cut down on smoking to see if that will boost it. The anti-depressants I was taking were hard on my body generally and caused numerous health disturbances, including GERD, which has cleared up at long last not on the drugs. The so-called stabilizers, lithium, especially, were better; since I am not depressed or otherwise medically suffering, I am taking a much-needed break from all of it. This is saving the government in tax money, too. Now all I lack are appropriate compensation for my cultivated and specialized skills, knowledge, and information and a group of dear, good, new and older friends.

If it is perceived that I used drugs and alcohol besides those for major depression (starting in 2001) and PTSD (bipolar disorder) the perception is a wrong one. I quit drinking in 1997 -- almost 10 years ago -- when I had reached the level of one pint of vodka per day for three months. Before that, I sipped a 12 pack of beer per day for three years whilst occasionally (once or twice a month) indulging in a half gram of urban cocaine. I haven't even seen illicit drugs, besides one gentleman farmer's homegrown pot, since moving to Minnesota almost 11 years ago -- thank God.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Honest Life

For an experiment, I am trying life off all medications. This is the only time I have tried to do this in 15 years. During many years, I was adjusted on med's, which worked fine. During recent years, however, the drugs have been too dishonest and overpowering and have caused too many side effects. Also, my life became a tool of a stupid system, which I hate. I am too good for that.

I feel great without medications for now. My poor body, however, was being partly stitched together by them, got used to them and relied on them to do things it used to do for itself, like hold its own weight. I dropped several pounds after the medications came off, and I am making a mountainous effort to fill up on good food.

I am very moved by writing at Sonia's weblog. Love is the answer. We were all very slow to it, I'm afraid, and gave our best to cats and books, which deserve love as much as we do. I asked my mother for a hug today, and we gave each other a big one. We are not naturally affectionate in our family, and it was a big step to do that. I am so glad for it.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Gerade rechts zum Volkszimmer

We do this: We go out for coffee in Wayzata. We go to the Caribou that is next to the bookstore. Harry, an early retiree and investment strategist and good man, world traveler, stops at our table to ask if we had seen it: the Porsche Carerra parked just around the corner. He estimates it costs $350,000 and that there are fewer than 10 of them in the country, six more likely. We hadn't seen it, but Lena, my friend, says, "That's how much my house costs: $350,000."

Later, we're eating hamburgers at the Wayzata Legion -- they are very juicy and cost $6 for the basket -- and Lucia walks in with Karen. Karen is carrying a gigantic gold Chanel purse. Both are in pants sets and heels. They have been to Gianni's, the best steak house, and are coming in to the Legion, the only place in town to smoke inside. Lucia is loud and friendly and affectionate. She runs her arms around the "Duke" and squeezes herself in between his legs. He is bald and yellowing and spotted, at least 70, and she is 65, but she looks ageless, like Sophia Loren. Karen ties us up with talk. She tells us her father is a three-time veteran, and people at the Legion are always good to her even though she wears Chanel and Cartier diamonds. We look at her finger. It's big, a wide band up to the first joint. She wears a diamond cross that covers her breastbone. I can't figure out why she is wearing a leopard print chemise; she is very married, as she tells us in plain detail. She says that she and Lucia are going to a private dinner with Bush in Wayzata for $5,000 per person. Lena says she would only pay $5,000 to eat with Elvis, and only if she got to sit right next to him.

Karen walks away and Lena says that she has Cartier, too, and Chanel, but she doesn't talk about it with strangers at the friggin' Legion, for crisessake. Of course, I say. Lucia is German, and we had a conversation auf Deutsch at the coffee shop on another day. She said my German was commendable but that she knew right off that she didn't like me. That was the week before she went to the Cheney luncheon in Excelsior.

Lena and I grew up together and vote for Democrats. We've talked about politics, which is a little surprising considering that so few people do. The men in her family are Republicans and the women are Democrats, going back to FDR. Their women and men disagree about the war. In my family, we vote for Democrats, without ever being sure if they represent our views. My mother is more like a moderate peacetime Republican, my brother a member of a Christian leftist party not invented yet.

Friday, August 11, 2006

A literary "stoush"

"It was a black joke and it's got out of hand."

Australian poets are notoriously combative and one literary figure suggested ... it was because their egos were inversely proportional to their sales.

(Robin Hamilton spotted this Aug. 9 article in The Daily Telegraph, Sydney, Australia.)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Red Squirrel

This is a never-ending day with sunshine crowning an eventual eclipse or a virtual exposure of no news from China from Beirut from Jerusalem where is Jericho? is Jericho in the news where is Tabriz? The sell out came in her not asking if I wanted to live she always thought no one really wanted to live or had their reasons for living she had liked dying just fine and wanted to see more of it had gotten to like watching it and forgetting there was functionality in plain living not imaginable in her graceless world of bloody corpses and smashed bones raked off by a yard junta as not edible flying girl flying sea flying pictures flying orgasm flying automobiles flying sandwich and chips flying rich folk flying poem the only thing not flying were her orderly friends with their small to large hangups and their physical difficulties one had a wired jaw one a hard time getting pregnant one a head that turned to autism if he was tired he would bash or bang it and one with a document of some estimable value that needed a script doctor before she got the doctor doctor not to notice her independence or to pay nice compliments he was no more than a ruddy cube she was not near her friends anymore they were spirited away on their flying rug or curled with a gun or watching tv not pulsing to operate what they had quit wanting careers or fame they were happy to watch reruns of seinfeld and melrose place she was not their friend anymore though she had liked all of them they were running not flying they were selling but not collecting they were free but unhappy she was happy but unfree and the blood of the seal went to bonemeal for the richest of the riches who lived in the townhouse of the flying squirrel not the flying girl of all seas ...

(Published in Minnetonka Review, issue 2, Troy Ehlers, ed., March 2008, p. 14.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Veronica by Mary Gaitskill

This is a selection of lines from this novel by Mary Gaitskill (Pantheon, 2005, Vintage Contemporaries Edition, July 2006). Though the characters are ugly and beautiful, ill and not ill, and the streets are ugly and beautiful, a warm compassion for all of them as people in real places opens up, even when the characters themselves lack compassion. I like to escape while reading into this book partly because the main character, Alison, doesn't write, and I envy her life that way. She goes the long day without writing anything. Of course, Gaitskill writes. Alison works as a model when she is young; later she is on codeine for a bad arm and has hepatitis. The title character, Veronica, has AIDS. I hesitated to read a novel about people with these problems, much the way one might avoid associating with people with these problems. Theirs is not a happy life, yet it is, too, because they lived.

When I lost my looks and had to go on disability, John pitied me and then looked down on me, but that just got fit into the friendship, too. What can't get fit in is that sometimes even now John looks at me and sees a beautiful girl in a ruined face. It's broken, with age and pain coming through the cracks, but it's there, and it pisses him off. It pisses me off, too. (39)

The sweetness of it was a complicated burst of little tastes, but under that was a big broad muscle of sound. It was like the deep feeling of dick inside and the tiny sparkling feelings outside on the clit. Except it was also like when you're in love and not thinking the words dick or clit. (41)

Daphne and I hated Sara for acting like this. But it was hard to hate her all the way. Her rage was like gentleness trapped and driven crazy with sticks. It was flailing and helpless. It made Daphne's measured goodness seem somehow mean. (58)

Then he jumped up and said he wanted to go to a nightclub. But I had go-sees the next day! He laughed and said, "Don't think like a shop girl! Think like a poet!" (69)

The intelligence in his eyes is warm, but it's not the love warmth of the heart. It's from the liver and stomach and glands, the busy warmth of function. He's slow to talk and he says "uhhhh" a lot. It doesn't make him sound stupid. It makes it seem like his thoughts are physical truths that have to come in noise form before he can get them into words. (77)

"I'm just saying, if you want to talk about disrespect ... " I trail off. Joanne doesn't like it when I tell stories like this. She thinks I'm acting dramatic and victimized. But that's not how I feel. I feel like the bright past is coming through the gray present and I want to look at it one more time. (83)

Like the German woman, he ate as if he could not taste. Lack of taste had made her indifferent to eating. It made him ravenous. It made him crawl on his hands and knees through the no taste, trying to find taste. (114)

When I first moved here, I lived in this town. I didn't live in the canyon, but I'd come to walk in it. I'd come especially when I felt afraid, knowing I had hepatitis but not feeling sick yet. I'd look at the big trees and the mountain and I'd think that no matter how big any human sickness might be, they were bigger. Now I'm not so sure. How much sickness can even a huge heart take before it gets sick itself? The canyon is full of dead and dying oaks. Scientists don't know why. It's hard to believe we didn't kill them. (119)

I understood that Cecilia looked at me as an object with specific functions, because that's how I looked at her. Without knowing it, that is how I looked at everyone who came into my life then. This wasn't because I had no feelings. I wanted to know people. I wanted to love. But I didn't realize how badly I had been hurt. I didn't realize that my habit of distance had become so unconscious and deep that I didn't know how to be with another person. I could only fix that person in my imagination and turn him this way and that, trying to feel him, until my mind was tired and raw. (134-135)

It is not really fear of homosexuals. That is just something to say. The real fear is of things that can't be said. (154)

Across the billowing snow, gaunt trees signed in shadow language. (155)

Of the three of us, Daphne was the only one who did well enough to tell a happy story about. A story of love between a man and woman, their work and children. There are other stories. But they are sad. Mostly, they are on the periphery. If we were a story, Veronica and I would be about a bedraggled prostitute taking refuge in the kitchen with the kindly old cook. If the cook dies, you don't know why. There isn't that much detail. You just know the prostitute (or servant or street girl) goes on her way. She and the cook are dim, small figures. They are part of the scene and they add to it. But they are not the story. (254)

Ann Bogle! Ann Bogle!

At by Kevin Thurston. (The first time I saw it, I thought the name of this weblog was related to an adverb "fuckingly" or to the plural of a type of person who is "fuckingly," but it isn't. It's really Fucking Lies or Polite Happiness.)

From the July archives:

Friday, July 28, 2006

wow! ann bogle

the first poem submitted to me by a blog reader

by Han Scrable

her tobacconist is Palestinian
and her barber is Israeli
[i think it was her barber]
and that is how she does
her part to keep peace.

in the morning i switch on
my computer it is a nice CPU
and i click on several "blogs"
whereat i shall meet amusement
always at the hands of Ann B.

she is self-effacing and modest
never the center of the universe
[ok, maybe she slipped a bit
when she told the world via "blog"
that she was really really smart

and ranked very high in her class
at some MFA program; and when
she was kinda presumptuous
when she said she helps maintain
world peace by having her hair cut

and coiffed by an Israeli, her cigs
purchased from a Palestinian, as if
such small gestures should earn her
a Nobel Peace Prize, which Condi
is going to win anyway.] Maybe Ann

knows Condi and will tell us all about it
in another Listserv message or at a "blog"
run by someone like Thurston, who is
much less smart and connected and
ranked much lower in his class than Ann

did. but i like Kevin anyway even though
i've never met him. but i know he has
good taste for he posts Ann Bogle messages
at his "blog." that is enough for me to want
to fly to Buffalo and meet him over wings.

Ann has the best recipe for Buffalo Wings
or so I heard through a grapevine full and
lush. i was at a poet party in the dark
out back smoking pot and Ann Bogle was
the subject of discussion. Ann oh Ann

you are everywhere all at once we love you
and you are ranked high in this world. maybe
Google Ads will reap you a major windfall
and you'll take us to the Tavern on the Green
for a really big dinner & we'll toast you a lot.

posted by kevin.thurston at 2:18 PM 1 comments

Subj: Re: Poem about ann bogle
Date: 8/7/06 8:24:41 PM Central Daylight Time

In a message dated 8/7/06 6:57:26 PM Central Daylight Time, writes:

Wow indeed. Maybe that's what Bob Dylan was trying to say when he said: (Here he's riffing on a shop sign. You can see this in Scorsese's No Direction Home, which they show on PBS. I was thinking that as far as extemporaneous prosody on cigarette shops that this was the gold standard.)

I want a dog that’s going to collect and clean my bath
return my cigarette and give tobacco to my animals
and give my birds a commission.

I want, I’m lookin’ for somebody to sell my dog
collect my clip, buy my animal and straighten out my bird.

I’m lookin for a place that can bathe my bird
buy my dog, collect my clip, sell me cigarettes and commission my bath.

I’m lookin for a place that’s gonna sell my dog, burn my bird and sell me for a cigarette
bird my buy collect my will and bathe my commission

I’m lookin for a place that’s gonna animal my soul,
knit my return, bathe my foot and collect my dog,
commission me, sell my animal to the bird to clip
and buy my bath and return me back to the cigarettes.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Publishing in (online v. print) journals

For me, the line for "ancient history" is 1990. In my family ancient history is last week, and we are always in at least a minor feud over it. To them, it is ancient history that I went for a job interview to scrub floors in the suburbs last week; my earned degrees, especially the one from '94, are part of ancient history, etc. In publishing, submissions went from single- to multi- some time in the early 90s or late 80s; '92 seems another useful line for measuring time in internet art space. I still try to practice single submissions, which is a throwback to pre-1990 ancient history, and I expect a return if I send an SASE, which is to have ancient expectations. In 1996, I went online. I saw that many very talented E people had been there before me, laying tracks, designing sites, building roads. I saw that some of the literary sites had the capacity to archive their back issues. All of this had great appeal, even though I'm not particularly electronic -- I am more text-based and not otherwise very graphic. Like some of the people have mentioned here, I like holding a beautifully designed bound book and reading it from my purse or in bed. My computer is an "ancient" (though post-1990) model, and it sits frumpily on my desk and is immovable and personal. It has limited remaining capacities. I go to the internet to read quickly for information, and I like it for reading short poems and short stories and essays. Anything longer, I would like to have it in book form, unless it is in fact art belonging to the internet. But, often, I don't like to read longer things, anyway.

My first published short story was in The Quarterly in 1988. That was a pulp paperback with a shiny cover that had a wider circulation than was usual for literary journals, and it was also literary. I used the usual method for getting in: one story to one editor at one time via US mail with SASE. Gordon Lish responded a week later with an acceptance. The stories (eventually I had three there) came out about a year after acceptance. He was considered to be very efficient by the standards of that business.

Now I wait to be solicited. It happens, but rarely. If anyone writes or calls with a request for something I wrote, I am sure to get something to them. With this post-ancient-history method my "waiting" feels more patient -- I am not waiting to hear back. Using the old method, I currently have submissions out to five publications -- and it's taking forever. I have written queries and reminders. They are holding these publications sometimes for five years! The old method has become lugubrious.

Growing Up Normal

In a message dated 8/5/06 1:57:06 AM Central Daylight Time, ALEX39@.COM writes:

Had I the authority of the wizard, I'd flash my magic wand and neutralize any and all portions of the brains and the gonads of all religious peoples.

In 1991, I went to a resident psychiatrist's office in Houston and told her I was becoming uncharacteristically religious and was writing about it at home: parables about street life to God. Streety was an adjective in a Barthelme short story, "The Dolt" that I read later, about Edgar who has failed The National Writers' Exam twice, and his sexy wife, Barbara, who was a hooker before they married. The resident psychiatrist didn't diagnose me, but later, when I didn't improve -- (I felt like all I was missing was the colonial doily on my head and could barely eat; I had a very serious expression and wouldn't smile for cameras and had gotten suddenly homely) -- I got two alternative dxs: one of temporal lobe epilepsy and one of manic depression. I did not choose drugging, but was ordered to go on med's anyway. A helpful fellow graduate student suggested that I read Barthelme's "The Sandman," but it was too late for that story, a letter to a psychiatrist from the third boyfriend of a woman patient who is really a pianist.

The anti-psychotics, according to Peter R. Breggin, the author of Toxic Psychiatry, do perform that service of neutralizing the hemispheres in the brain concerned with religion. If you could catch and drug the religious people, you'd have your wand. I have atheist friends, who are formerly Catholic, and who are blue collar workers; they shun all forms of religion and spirituality except art. What I was before the dx: a secular Protestant (not of the evangelical type), and I think this is pretty much still true today -- not an atheist but not much of a Christian, either.

The problem for "us" now is that groups do not know "what to do with" the dxd people who try to participate in regular activities. It's really worse than it was even 15 years ago for gays -- who lacked certain well-understood rights -- but 15 years ago, there was not this other group whose rights to housing, employment, education, health care, and community could be abridged -- people who typically haven't met, don't know each other, didn't used to be dxd, and are not political, who are subscribers not to religious thought but to conventional medicine. There are no blood tests for major mental illness. The treated bipolars I have met are not religious in the least or are merely religious and not very spiritual (except one born again woman, lucky enough to have a beau who is her ex-husband, the only one I met who stays off med's but goes to the doctor). The untreateds I met were occultists and drug addicts. Dx is really about aspects of trauma, and trauma is partly based in a lack of recognition that trauma has taken place or that it matters.

If the Gibson tirade is about hate and not about religion, as two people suggested, then it's worth remembering how in our version of our former religion hate was so completely taboo -- as little kids we were taught not to be vehement or to have enemies.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Monday, July 03, 2006

Reading & Writing

I studied Gertrude Stein. She said of herself that she listens while she speaks. I thought for years about her remark. I postulated that reading is like listening and writing is like speaking. If I put the two ideas together, then Gertrude Stein read her listeners.

I was a student for 22 years. I taught for five of those years plus two more. I worked as a newspaper copy and wire editor for two years. I ran the front desk at a veterinary clinic.

I listen really well and deeply, so I made a good student. I remembered everything the professors told us, practically ever. I was a student in the class, not the only student in the class. We were listening and apprehending and appreciating and admiring and aspiring. We were to be promoted to professor ourselves one day. Our brains were a big notebook with files and tabs, with cross references, with things that might come up again, with names, with titles, with lineages, even with publication names and names of famous editors, of bookstores in other cities, of bookstores in our own city, of our worries. We worried about men and women, about pets, about violence, about rights, about places, about kings and queens and coronation couples, about rejecting religion, about drugs, about alcohol, about smoking, and sex. We didn't have children or own housing. We worried about transportation, about our cars.

When I left school with my literary notepad, my brain, crammed with notes for a tomorrow of teaching and meeting at cafes and bookstores, it was a language, a shorthand for something. We were not to be professors as we had had professors nor teachers as we had had teachers. We were to teach reading and writing fundamentals to deserving and urban students. Or do something else.

My significant other in 1983 had told me not to be a "professional feminist," so I dropped it like a bad potato; I have almost forgotten the books by those women that had formed a first notebook in college: Margaret Atwood, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, H.D., Helene Cixous, Annette Kolodny, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath. I memorized his shelves, which was good as working at City Lights or Woodland Pattern. My father had told me not to be a "professional student," so I prepared for life as a teacher. Had I written a scholarly dissertation instead of a creative one, it would have been about the work of Helene Cixous, Leslie Scalapino, Lorrie Moore, Amy Hempel, Lydia Davis, and Clarice Lispector: Contemporary Experimental Writers, notes I wrote briefly in my foreword to my own work so I could leave school faster. I could have stayed.

After school was over, the notebook was useless in trips to bars. I learned more about theater in bars. There were people who knew about literature in the bars, but no one was mentioning it. They had their mental notebooks, too, and I could practically guess who their authors were by spending two hours alone with them or in a group. We gave lipservice to our authors but only rarely. Mostly, we were drinking beer and whiskey to forget them. They had served us but only so long as we were in school. The other worries that had crowded around the books in our minds took over until cars and men and women and sex and smoking and food and apartments were all there were to think about. Two years went by, and I discovered Ayn Rand on a shelf. She was not one of our authors. I heard more about Stephen King and Anne Rice. I found the Big Book of AA while cleaning someone's room. I noticed the encyclopedia. I hurried to the dictionary with crazy last-minute corrections to my 22-year opus, my life as a student. I was not a professional student! I was not a professional feminist!

Today, though my father's advice was correct, I would like to be a professional student if only the universities would pay for it. I would learn Swedish and Spanish. I would take economics. I would write about economics and poetry. I would do it by listening and learning, by showing up, by paying homage, and taking shortcuts, by publishing little or nothing, by taking a bus to avoid parking, by lunching alone.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Internalational Dictionary of Neologisms

A delightful blog: Spooks by Me by K. Lorraine Graham

My Crush on Daniel Ortega, short story

A week later.

In this room, where love was spilled on the oldest bed, there is a draft. I begin the song again, the song about the eye, and I smoke and drink coffee. I am crouching, and I am waiting, because the dream of the clarinet tells me to begin again.

February 20

Daniel Ortega dances the mayfly with women on the campaign trail. He rides in on horseback, Godivas in tow. The week of the election, I do my taxes in North America. I remind myself that he is married, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking about him. I blot from my mind the deaths he has ordered. His soldiers are rowdy and young, eager to kill for an ideal.

Violetta Chamorro travels again and again to Washington. She limps in on crutches. She is here for the better medical care and to take our money. There is a dim recollection that she is a martyr. Somoza killed her husband while we were on Somoza’s side. The sides change. Her children, her son and daughter, put out the Sandinista newspaper.

March 27

Politics kills romance.

I tear apart the sheets you wrinkled, sleeping with my friend, and I wonder if I can learn to be louder while making love, as loud as you were while I stood on the other side of the wall, in the kitchen, feeding the cats. You’re not legally married, and neither am I, as we keep telling each other.

My friend says that you and I are like hands, back to back. She matches you in loudness, and she can forget me and your wives, as she rolls with you in my husband’s bed. She says that places mean nothing to her. That it’s crucial for self-preservation.

April 3

My taxes are still not done. The documents I need are filed in a box in the closet. I’ve paid them thousands of dollars, and they want more. I open and close the closet door, and the documents snap at the hem of my robe.

My throat is sore, but I won’t quit. When I get the prescription, I’ll take two and go out. It’s raining. I dance along the street with my headphones on and keep my eye peeled for Daniel Ortega.

I am never alone. The music runs the cord to my ear. The cats sleep at my head. The men call and call. They stay in orbit. I am protected only by gravity, and I am not a planet. I slip. I let them nearer, by turns. I veer toward one then another.

Her letter arrives, printed. She speaks simply, as if I were a child. There are things she won’t be telling me. I read quickly for a reference to her betrayal. She writes out of concern for me and out of curiosity. Our week together was refreshing, she says, but not relaxing. We talked so much. We lost the toothpaste. Our visitors were all poor. Maybe one of them took it.

The toothpaste didn’t turn up, I tell her. I am seeing the new man, but I don’t know what his fate will be. Sorry to hear her new one is trouble. It’s worth it only at certain moments, and then what choice do we have? The house is full: three of a kind and two of another.

Finish it, she says. Put it behind you and walk on. Put them all behind you and continue on alone, without these crutches.

March 24

My friend had a dream that she was away when the fire started, and that I was stuck in the upper floors of the building. She waited helplessly on the street for my rescue. They put me in the hospital for smoke inhalation, and three days later, I was shot at in the same building. She stood on the street below waiting for them to carry me down. Again? she said. Again? And she thought that what had happened was her fault.

April 3

The most reliable suitors are the traitors, the ones who come first in their own minds.

The phone rings, but it’s not the right caller. I pick among relative evils. One I want is bad for me; one I love is married. There is a hope with the new man that I’ll wait for him to catch on to me. I’ll take off my clothes in protest of this taxation and get on his back, side-saddle.

March 29

In the dream about the married man, I read his poem. I had let myself into his office and ransacked his papers, looking for an indication. Ours was not a one-night stand because his brow was wrinkled, sadness there like a mark. We read the book about Anna and Levin without being Anna or Levin.

He says that I should be on my guard, that my trouble will be that I arouse strong emotions. In the dream, he climaxed while I read the right side of the poem, the column about Anna. I stopped reading when he came and thought: We missed each other.

April 3

I do not fool myself by thinking death will not come. I plan for it. I kill time until it arrives. Sal says that when he gets sick, he lies in bed, thinking uncharacteristically of death, wanting sympathy. I tell him, not in answer: Death is my constant companion.

When Tom Petty counts squarely, he says foe. One, two, three, foe.

When I come to you, there are two yous, a you and a you. With one of you, I spill my
guts. With the other, I stroke your brow. You all have a dog bite above your left eyebrow. Gay men used to wear earrings in their left ears. Now everyone wears earrings in both ears.

Time advances. One space between words, two between sentences. When I’m not working, I rehearse the language of newspapers: teez, pica, reefer, jump, hed, sig.
. . .
On Ash Wednesday we brought the Lebanese man to what I tell myself is a "crackhouse," but really it is just someone's house. The Lebanese man's mother is from the Dominican Republic, no matter what your understanding was. You said she was from Honduras, but those are the fire victims. His father was the ambassador from Beirut to Santo Domingo. He grew up in Spain. After midnight, he told us about the Jesuit priesthood. He said that until he had been with a woman, he had not known God. He said, pounding his abdomen: Until man knows woman, he cannot know himself.

The man whose house it was had asked for my phone number at a poetry reading. I had known him in the past as a cook at Muther’s Kitchun. I had had the impression that he had taken a turn toward stupidity, that he had used up too much acid. He was against tobacco. He let the whole-wheat carob brownies burn in the oven, as the men lit up the ladle with the gray, thickening cocaine. He told me to go outside if I needed to smoke cigarettes.

Jennifer Casolo is caught with weapons in her yard. She went to Central America as a missionary and came back as a chief.

CAST (in order of appearance):


I (me, my)
Violetta Chamorro
Her daughter
My friend
Your wives
Anna Karenina
The Lebanese man’s Dominican mother
Jennifer Casolo
The woman who dumped the man with the long hair
The new man’s old love
Jean Rhys


Daniel Ortega
His soldiers
Violetta Chamorro’s husband
Her son
My husband
The new man
My friend’s new man
The married man
Tom Petty
Gay men
The Lebanese man
His father
The man whose house it was
My old boyfriend
The man with the long hair
Frankie, the mafia son
The Assemblyman
The news anchor
The Texan in the Dewar’s profile



April 4

The new man spends 19 hours in my bed then leaves to buy pot. He wants to come back afterward, but I tell him I have things to do. I remind him that my old boyfriend is coming to town. He says he’ll call at eleven. At eleven I’m eating old macaroni, hoping he’ll call, planning to ask him over and to kick him out early, but I don’t get the chance. He doesn’t call.

I put on the headphones. By sheer telepathy, I am not able to make the man with the long hair call, but I think of him.

March 28

The new man spends 15 hours in my bed. At 5 o’clock, I drive him to work, and on the way, the man with the long hair passes us and waves. He has on dark glasses, and wisps of hair escape his ponytail. I drive erratically and let the new man out. In my rearview mirror, I see Frankie, the mafia son. This town is too small. I don’t want to live here anymore. I go straight home, with a firm plan to straighten the upholstery.

I realize that the man with the long hair will follow me, but I don’t know why he would decide to since we were going in opposite directions. I tell myself to go inside and brush my teeth, when he pulls up behind me in his father’s car. I recognize the New York Assemblyman plates.

He meets me in the middle of the street and kisses me. He takes my hand and points me toward the pizza shop at the corner, but we never get there. He walks, and I float beside him. He wants to know how my infatuation is coming: Am I over him yet? No, I tell him, it’s still with me. I like to be near him to intensify my suffering. He asks me who the man in the car was, and I ask him if he wants coffee. By then he has walked and I have floated down the street and through the park. He pauses to wave at the news anchor in the intersection. I wave, too, not realizing that I only know the news anchor from TV.

We go inside to two cups of coffee on the table. There are no other traces of the new man. I wonder if the man with the long hair knows that we just got up, but he isn’t talking. He’s sitting on the couch, waiting for his coffee, reading my journal. He injures my peace, but we flipped for it. I listen from the kitchen to his silent reading and wait for him to ask again if all my sentences are short. He doesn’t ask. He says he likes it but doesn’t get it.

He tells me about running into the woman who dumped him and that she is cold toward him now. He asks how would I feel if he were cold toward me. I tell him he is cold, though he tries not to seem so. He asks if I’m involved with the new man, and I say, no.

April 4

The new man’s old love is in the past. He says her name, and her name means love. I tell him there are things to look forward to, but I’m no more certain than he is. I think ahead to Texas. I think of meeting the Texan in the Dewar’s profile. That wouldn’t be love, but it could be fun. Perhaps fun is just around the corner.

My husband calls while the new man is fucking me. I’m on the bottom and yelling, "I don’t want to hear it." The answering machine is blaring, and I’m plugging my ears. My husband says our name for each other over and over, in a slow decrescendo.

April 5

The new man falls off his horse doing a trick for me. I show no mercy. I leave him in the mud, caked with tears. I want him supple, and he wants merely to be soft. No amount of mercy will change that.

During our druid times, my friend says: There are no other lovers.

April 6

My husband reads Jean Rhys to me over the phone at four in the morning, and I can’t remember why I left him. Neither of you rides a horse. Anna Karenina crumbled in the stands when Vronsky fell off his horse.

(First written in 1990; published in Washington Review in 1998.)

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ad- (L.) and -ad (Gr.)

A search of my weblog for "ad" produced the following list:



had had




Brad Pitt
Darth Vader

Kitchen Set

I was very young, about three. Grandma helped me on this occasion -- it was Christmas Eve at Uncle Sheldon and Aunt Pat's. Sheldon was Grandma's brother, so, technically they were our great aunt and uncle. Sheldon was in TV. Later, as I pictured it, he was the Walter Cronkite of Denver. He reminded one of Walter Cronkite or Robert MacNeil. He was that style journalist: sincere. For Christmas they gave me a child's size kitchen set, replete with stove, refrigerator, and sink. When it was unveiled, I took one look at it and puked on their living room carpet. Then I burst into uncontrollable sobbing because they believed I did not like the kitchen set -- I could not catch my breath -- and Grandma, who understood that I liked the kitchen set so much that I puked, translated for me. Eventually, I stopped crying at our little misunderstanding. Then I settled into enjoying a really great Christmas. My parents and brother and their kids were there, too.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Oh, baby!

Subj:Re: hippy Date: 6/9/06 7:19:40 AM Central Daylight

In a message dated 6/8/06 12:54:37 PM Central Daylight Time, rainermaria@.NET writes:> I shaved my head four years ago and played with my resume. Blatant > lies. They didn't help. But I really looked like a total putz with no > hair. As for The Fugs....>

I clippered my hair to an eighth of an inch five years ago -- in 2001 before 9/11 -- to see what the small of my head looked like. Men had suddenly insisted on having a baby with me, men I had not met until then or drunk men I had long known. I had not been hankering for a baby. One of the drunk men, a dear friend, hunk, as he updated me, now living the existence of a poet, called from San Francisco to say he would take the plane to Minneapolis, do it, then leave me to raise the baby. He was driving taxi, something his ex-wife, another of my friends, had not agreed to in him. Another drunk one, a novelist calling from Missouri said he wanted to spread his superior genes (with their single flaw or two) to as many states as he could carry them. He assumed my mother would pay for everything. "Everything" means private schools. She hadn't needed to pay for private schools for me, so now I'm really unemployed. He was working. Then a wealthy drunk poet in New York called in for quintuplet boys to go with his three boys already. "Girls then," I said. "No," he said.

Perhaps if I had suddenly mated, just then, as a fuzzy-headed woman with a man with a shaved head, everything would have turned out okay. I had been very attracted to bald men -- even been engaged to one for two years -- but he and I didn't have a baby. He had a baby with a woman he had met once at a music festival. The baby was then adopted by rich, white people, a fact that caused me to grow highly suspicious of the economics of having babies, something I had not been in the past.

It was a Jamaican man, a steel drum player, Jah-B, as it turned out, who got it started with me, when he approached me at a bar, where I had stopped in for exactly one drink (what I could afford), and said, "Have my baby." We went on two dates total, my hair still long. I must not have wanted a baby so soon: at almost 39. On one of the two dates, I had slathered my arms, legs, and chest with mentholated rub. My muscles felt constantly punished as if by invisible forces. I smelled only menthol and almost could not eat. His mother had had her last of nine children at the age of 52. "Never let anyone tell you you can't have a baby until you're 52," he confided.

[Corrected slightly and improved for style, June 24, 2014, age 52; original entry, June 6, 2006]

Texas Was Better, short story

We’ve come rowing in our boat for gasoline. The last place didn’t have it. The first place sold us food. We ate heaps of beans and rice with plastic forks. This is better than in New York. The further the better. But there’s a limit.

So I think about having not gone to Canada. Had I gone to Canada pluperfect. What Canada would have looked like from the boat, what it would have looked like from the shore, with my back to it, having already seen it, saying later in New York that the lox had been delicious. "The gardens are well-kept due to a still-thriving sense of civic pride." What people had heard.

Had I gone to Canada--but in particular had I gone to Halifax--I would have walked until I had found the three cats. It would have been like Hemingway’s cats--I would have looked for the descendants of the three cats that had slept under the house where my professor had lived with her professor--married. This is how it came about, she had said.

In the story there were a large caesar salad and a guest. Her marriage ended before they ate the salad--she and the professor broke their vows over bread. The guest left hungry. The child continued. Over the course of further stories her daughter became her friend, but not in forward order.

In a story of my friend’s--one my professor would not have heard--the daughter did worse things to her room than not clean it. After some months, my friend ordered my professor’s daughter to wash dishes.

My professor drove the mountains in spring, when the buds were red. Had she not told me about the red spring, I would have gone on seeing the usual yellow spring from my apartment. I went out to it. Probably my windows were dirty. It was a beautiful movie. The buds were red--it seemed they were dying at the beginning. I had no idea what fall would be--bright fish composing on Beethoven Street.

If you had said, "Let’s go to Canada," we would have gone, if I had thought you meant it. You didn’t have a car. How many men have not been taken seriously for not having a car? You gave your reasons: the ozone layer, carbon monoxide, but really it was your DUIs. The relationship would have felt different had you driven.

Eventually, I dreaded to see you drive. Because driving one should never look small. What if you had driven and looked small? Or thin or stiff or overly law-abiding? You would not have found my back seat so congenial for your blues harp.

It was the first clean sheets in a month. The best without someone. Bugs had not wanted to come into this house. (Where were the much-prophesied cockroaches?) The cats saw the one bug on the ceiling and sat still for an hour tracking it.

Texas was better in the story of your birth in El Paso’s fluke of a dust storm. I imagined your mother giving birth to you at the center of the storm, not, as she must have done, on the military base. I came here thinking that I was returning to your birthplace in your place.

Had we driven, we would have stopped in Memphis, knowing what I now know about Memphis. Even as I flew, gasoline prices went up. Had we driven, we would have beaten the panic by moving slower than it.

We would not have eaten the rice and beans en route. We would have eaten them in southern Louisiana or in New Mexico. Would you have guessed this?

Originally--a story you would not have heard--New Mexico was to be the location of our ranch. My friend and I would have lived in the house. You and my ex- would have lived in town. Not that my friend would have belonged to my ex-. I was to have both you and my ex-, and my friend would have been there to talk to. She could have had anyone she wanted.

This had been a daydream. The image of the ranch, looking back on it, prefigured my friend’s affair with my ex- and her falling in love with you. The daydream as described in the letter is preserved. She got a typed copy. Her idea had not been so different except she at that time would have brought her ex- --also relegated to town.

Well, daydreams being equal and sort of meaningless, neither here nor there.

Still, it was useful to imagine the four of us in New Mexico and in the pattern I had been used to. It was a way to move without changing and to keep the terrible power I had in a new setting.

My ex- thinks about Nova Scotia--he had gone there as an Eagle Scout but dropped out after the trip.

(First written in 1990; published in Submodern Fiction in 2003.)

Poetry at Veery Books

I met Victoria Bouroncle, nee Edwards, now Tester, while we were both studying creative writing at the University of Houston in the 1990s. Her book of poems, Miracles of Sainted Earth (University of New Mexico Press, 2002) just arrived on my desk, a gift from Veery Books. Here is one of the poems:

Bill Evans Lake, 1999

The last cold Sunday of the millenium
we fished among the waterweeds and the chamiso.

My son looked into the gold
jewel eye of the black duck
and the secret eye of the crane
and swore that he'd live, too.

I prayed every dark road in him
would lead to a place like this:

where he must have been before.

Not the two empty beers in an old fire.
Or the shirt sleeve the other boy cut away with a knife

so he could take a pure animal shit
behind the junipers.

Or maybe those, too.

I'm talking about deep water
ringed by mountains, and delighted
creatures staring back and willing to live

under the same sun, the same shadows.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cigs, (short story)

“It’s like hungering for a year of cigs. A year of cigs, a yard full of cigs. Stick ’em in my face. Burn me out. Kill me with their emotional therapy.

I stay sleeping to avoid wanting to smoke. 'Dread Baron' was wrong in saying volition seems gone from the world. There is plenty of the kind that heads toward death. Early death, early retirement, takes care of each emotion until it kills you at 50.

I don’t want to smoke. How can I convince myself? I say it, but I know that my body will become a pear for three years, not fat per se, but newly formed. Gelatinous, new ridges. From not pounding my heart so hard just watching TV. I can take walks, I can fix my bike, I can join a swim pool, yoga day. Can type better, if I try. My fingers are sleepy. I am sleepy, too, from no speed-er-up. No coffee, no cigs, want to fall down sleeping all the time.

What about sub drugs from a shrink? Mood-altering chemicals from a shrink? Pain is pain. Emotional pain is emotional pain. They teach that emotional pain is physical pain, culture pain is science pain, but they cannot test for the absence of these synaptic conclusions. I will say, if you can test me and find something missing, then you can supplement me for the missing thing, but don’t play chemical guess work in my body.

'Tenny' resists less because drugs are his favorite response to all life’s situations. The only thing not drug is sex, and he approaches sex as a drug, to cure pain. Uses sex to end love pain. Love to end sex pain.

My throat is sore, but the soreness is from not smoking. Going back would not help and would make me feel resigned to risk death at 50 from early laziness. Also, there would be a lost sense of free will. All my oratories would be about the inevitability of all life.

'Rye Character’s' stories would have been different had he gotten off the cigs. They say booze kills, but much more often, cigs kill. Cigs are not okay, not mild, not non-reactive. They smooth every emotion, tame every flare up. Cigs are quick like crack must be quick. I can’t imagine that there would be a lot of difference, except with crack cops would be involved. Say crack gives you a buzz. Cigs give you a buzz, too, but you don’t know that after a while. Then you need another one.

Cigs kill. Reports say that cigs kill more people than anything in the U.S. Not booze. Booze hardly kills, even drunk driving, compared to cigs. Cigs cost the public in hospital bills, years on end, trying to stomp out the avoidable disease. Maybe cigs are bad because of other chemicals. Then take them out. Smoke Lucky’s or Camels or American Spirits. I loved to smoke. I loved to smoke. Where will be the next love? Where will be the courage to face life not smoking?

Every cig you light you know you’re killing yourself. Early. Not that you wouldn’t die but that you are hastening death. In these writers, they’re dying twenty years sooner than other people. They write about sadness. Every one thinks their sadness is universal, but it’s the sadness of a tobacco addict, a self-killer. Not family, not friends, not cancer, not wisdom stop them from offing themselves every twenty minutes. Addicts.

Got my cereal box here for munching. Got my list of to do.

. . .

Maybe I just want to smoke more this minute because I am writing and drinking coffee and it’s a test. It’s hardest the first day giving up an old practice. The first day was nearly impossible. Not undoable but nearly so. I wanted to smoke or die. But after I had passed the addiction period, it was my mind telling me. They say if you can hold out, if you can stick with it and ignore the damn memories of loving your little white lover man sticks, then the desire becomes less and less. You get over it. You try.

That is all I know how to say.

It would not be acceptable to go back and suck down a pack of Camels because I would still want to smoke when I had done that. I want to smoke now though I don’t smoke, and I’d want to smoke then, if I did smoke. The wanting to is constant whether I do it or don’t. Not smoking is harder for a while, then, they say, the urges begin to decline. You begin to fit into a life without smoking.

Give myself a break. Twenty-year habit begun as a child. I am bound to feel more pressure. There is no memory like my memory of liberation through cigs. Good memories of independence and liberation and being smarter than parents in smoking. The other self, the other person, the bad self, the sexy self, the sinner self, the not wanting to be all good all the time because it was so hard to be perfect, the rebelling by smoking and sex (which I never really chose then but was proud of, as if accomplished).

My mother must have been very angry to see me get away from her grasp that way. Don’t smoke! Alarm. Don’t smoke! Who is smoking for? It is for rebelling. Who has me locked up now? Cigs, that’s who. Cigs. Don’t do it. The devil dog is cigarettes.

Devil Dog, God as my witness, Devil Cigarette Humper, Go Exactly to Hell!

It was cigs I loved, not life. That’s true. Cigs, not life. Cigs were the little punctuations in each day I needed to feel alive, to feel life was worth something. Cigs. Cigs are life? Are cigs life for addicts? What is life for the non-addict, me? For me, life is life, I suppose. What is life to be life to someone? What is life to be life to someone?”


Unmailed Letter to UK

Dear K,

Greetings from C. C. Club in Minneapolis in the Lynlake neighborhood. If you have a tic tac toe or a bingo or a lotto game running through your life, you may say, "I win." K. wins with his bona fide good heart.

This place is like Lola's in Houston without the purple wall. I'm mentally flirting to little avail -- that they are mentally gay or mentally gray. Each man alone and men sitting with one another are using cell phones.

K. has a dear, married heart. You are high on my list for good times lived without nasty backlash coming of it afterward. You deserve a big purple heart in the war on drugs.

I miss Houston. It's like Collin Gibbons said -- everyone who leaves Houston returns.

I have bizarre and happy fantasies of seeing you and of living in your garage apartment and of being one of your girlfriends and of having a boy or a girl with blond hair and green eyes or of moving alone to Cleveland and of calling you from there.

I said it's okay to love someone but not to bust a marriage, which is my own but a minority point of view. It's better to live well and die in penury than to live poorly and die well-off.

Happy is how I always felt to know you. You are a winner in my book.

(June 4, 2006)

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Hogging the Lady, short story

This is the hardest of the stories. This is the story that belongs in its place. This is the story that takes second place. It is the story that follows its master. It is the story that grows old. It is the story for a season, for fall.

Which door did she slip in, in her torn fishnet stockings and faux leather skirt, brown, her mascara falsely applied, her vacant blouse in need of hitching. She was not the usual member of the band, not the girl nextdoor, not next to any door, not a regular housekeeper or woman. She was a ditch digger, a pied, circular piper, a mouse hugger.

I took her to be the last of her generation. She seemed drunk without eating. She seemed ashamed without sin. She seemed cursed without a family. She seemed as though she had planned a porkchop for the boys and girls of Tallahassee. She seemed to believe that she had roped a strong pony. In the first movement her dance looked lonely and lame. Then she got up on the stage and tried to kiss the front man. He didn’t want to kiss her at first, but when he did, something magical happened, something tender.

She got down off the stage and put down her riding crop. She started loving the air. She started singing in her voices. She started dancing. She whistled a bar of Dixie then she sallied north. She swiveled her legs and her arms, looking much like a 44-year-old rodeo worker on the floor at Christopher’s, but she was at the Turfside.

Everyone wanted to dance with her, a face she well knew, but that did not seem to be the reason to dance for her. She danced, it seemed, so that others would dance, too, and they did.

(1999; published in Poetic Inhalation in February 2005.)

Almanac, short story

Marcy called on the abortion day. She had been reading from Source Almanac.

"Wisconsin produces more beer and brandy than any place, and furthermore, Milwaukee is a better city than Minneapolis, in all areas except one thing ... "

"The police force," I said. "Milwaukee police beat people like Philadelphia police beat people and bomb people."

"And of the ten cities with most bars per capita, Wisconsin has six of them."

Then I knew that four years at college, beer with Marcy and everyone we met may not have been normal. It had been a way to meet lonely people who were secretly brilliant and unfit to live how they must in this place.

I said, "Marcy, Source Almanac is a guide for the Apple."

In Moscow there are oxygen tanks on the street because everyone drinks too much, like here, like Wisconsin. Maybe the students can’t move from within.

I thought then of Robert, who was brilliant and spoke pure poetry, of how we met the only time in a bar and I loved him. He said, "Kill or be killed," and he yelled at me because I couldn’t shoot a gun.

I said, "Robert, I thought you were in mathematics."

And he said, "Turnip, you little nothing sassy, kill or be killed."

Then the other guys, who had been to Vietnam, too, said, "Robert, sit down."

(First written in 1985; published in Poetic Inhalation in February 2005.)

Wild Bore Harley

A reader in Michigan landed at my weblog by searching "wild bore harley." Most of my visitors are looking for the real actress, Ann-Margret. When I was five, my grandmother (Hazel Peterson), introduced me to a tall auburn-haired woman who had my same name. She and Laverne were Grandma's cousins, she said. Well, I didn't know an actress had my same name, so I would not have understood that this might be she. If it was she, indeed, then it never was mentioned again. I did like red hair after that and picked for my Barbie doll the red-haired one named Stacy.

Ann-Margret (Olsson)'s people are Swedes from Chicago, and we are Swedes from Minnesota. Her mother was the Folger's coffee lady on television. If we are related, I got my good old legs from her.

Once I walked up our street, Thomas Avenue, to the house at the top of the hill, where I had heard that Bee Bee Shoppe had grown up. Bee Bee Shoppe had been a Miss America. I was five. I asked the mother who answered the door about Bee Bee Shoppe's success. "Margaret Anne," she said, "Margaret Anne," go home. Well, that's not my name, I told her. Another time, I made entrance to their living room, and Mrs. Shoppe and her mother sat with me for a quiet time with our hands folded.

I moved back to Minnesota from Houston on May 24, 1996, ten years ago.

Ode to Coffee

Hyllningsdikt Till Kaffet

Of all the good things that one consumes,
among all the worldly drinks,
the coffee sip is the very best.
It disperses the whims of men,
it fortifies the body and quickens the mind.
One feels it from the head down to the heel.


When fall comes with wind and snow,
when spring begins its rains,
then one becomes bleak and dull.
All one wants to do is to sleep and quibble.
Yes, one's whole body is out of sorts,
but then ... there is health in the coffee cup!


When the wife has lost her beloved husband
and sits alone with the debts,
she bitterly mourns her twofold plight
but puts the coffee pot on the fire.
And when the coffee is clear she leaves the bier
and gets strength in a sip of coffee.


When the latest news be gathered in
from the city's hundred sources,
at a small nice party
one would see one's friends and intimates.
At the coffee table one does the very best
gossiping about the neighbors.


One would suck her lump of sugar with the coffee,
another would love to dip the bread,
meanwhile talking with such force
that the ears ought to be plugged.
Just as the drums roar at an army camp
the tongues clamor at the conference.


Without coffee--oh, heavenly drink,
what would human life be!
All the news not yet in print
stands written in the bottom of the pot:
Because after the last drop is gone
life's riddles are "solved" in the coffee grounds!


From Of Swedish Ways by Lilly Lorenzen, illustrated by Dick Sutphen, Gilbert Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1964.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Varan Prost

by Gustaf Froeding (1860-1911):

Our Dean
is round as a cheese
and learned as the devil himself,
but sociable anyway
and a kind soul
and is not ashamed that his father was a farmer.
He lives like we do
and "spikes" his coffee
as we do
and does not reject the bottle,
loves food
as we do
--but on holidays, that's something else.

As soon as he dons the clerical robe
the rest of us feel miserably small,
but the Dean seems to grow
because then he is Dean from top to toe
and a magnificent Dean at that
in a large parish with accessions.
I shall never forget in all my days,
how imposing he was
recently, in his robe and his collar,
how he put the worldly humans through the mill
and laid down the law to us!
And the Dean wept, no wonder,
he spoke of the Judgment Day!

And all of us wept profusely, too,
because it stung the flesh
and the soul was under pressure.
And the church council members sneaked out
with stooped backs
behind the Dean
because they were called to a meeting.
But of course
we recovered
when the Dean finally cleared his throat
and said: "Welcome
to the smorgasbord and the schnapps!"

From Of Swedish Ways by Lilly Lorenzen, illustrated by Dick Sutphen, Gilbert Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1964.

Hype & Melancholy

Sonia assures us (at her weblog) that she does not take medications even for misanthropy. I like her entry on misanthropy. It reads like a description of melancholy -- on not liking the enjoyable things one usually likes -- and that feeling of not liking enjoyable things lasting for a period of time, of days or weeks then it passing, and her interest in things returning. My former boyfriend spent three days each month in perfect retreat. He went to his mother’s house, where he sometimes lived, avoided calls and callers, and got in his bed. Those days he let me come with him, and I got in bed with him and paid attention to his supple, vibrant skin and petted his body. He said it was a “male period” and that he didn’t want anyone except me to come near him during that time. He rode out a month’s worth of energy and hype that way. He was in a rock band. He didn’t take medications, either.

You may think: No one locks someone up for no reason, but I thought: no doctor diagnoses something serious for no reason. As someone who was there, I knew what hidden things we might or might not have been accepting. Sonia banks on hidden things in the minds of other people, whereas I bank on what I know. She drove around one spring with her eye peeled for Missouri license plates -- due to a crush she had on a man from Missouri. Where did the license plates take her? Did she follow the cars or just notice them? I once got out of a ghetto neighborhood in Chicago by following a Volvo out. I had taken a wrong turn to get into that neighborhood in the first place and was lost and afraid until I saw the Volvo and got behind it as if I had located a telephone booth.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday landed on March 1st this year. I went to an Ash Wednesday service for the first time since childhood. As kids, Ash Wednesday was more for grown-ups and was not really meant for us. I suppose we wore black if we went, something black, not necessarily all black. It was for repenting sin in preparation for Easter and Palm Sunday. I went once or twice. I was sorry I had ... would not do that again ... would do better next time. Could hardly think of something adult enough to feel sorry for, maybe something I was, like tardy or rushed or fussy or driven or not athletic enough or sometimes jealous, though not very jealous anymore since my mother had told me what jealousy leads to: finding out that other people had problems, too, not a pleasing discovery. Live without that, then, jealousy of lucky girls. I wasn't ever jealous of boys.

This year at Ash Wednesday I gave up procrastination for Lent. I postpone solving problems. I assume some problems have no solution. I assume tough problems are for no one to solve, to live with them. This year I asked God to put a problem-solver in my way, to introduce me to someone who thinks like a problem-solver. God next showed me to my own door. I solve problems. I am a problem-solver. True, I am not a lover who solves problems nor do I love solving problems. But I do solve problems. I am a problem-solver. A problem is the next thing. A problem contains its own solution.

I have a friend who might have told someone that I am "criminally insane"; my problem is in finding her out and correcting her bad mouth. The word for her bad behavior would be slander. When someone tries to bad-mouth someone with me, I try to find out if there is a good reason for it -- is the badmouthing deserved? Is so-and-so really "a snake," and what does "snake" mean and why is he "a snake"? There might be a reason for badmouthing, but there might not be a good one. If my friend believes that her thoughts precede her actions, then what actions does she believe my thoughts might precede? I have had two violent fantasies against her. In one of the fantasies, she is in hell, and the gatekeeper of hell has got her famous hair on a spear. She is forced to wear crooked black hair, which looks stupid and horrible against her pale skin. Her whole goal is to get her hair back. She doesn't care that she is in hell; she cares that the ogre guarding hell has her hair. My pleasure in that fantasy comes from imagining the crooked black hair and its bangs and in her having to wait to be popular. She doesn't actually get hurt in the fantasy. I think she gets her hair back then starts to flirt with the men in hell.

If I were an animal, I would be a giraffe, not a molecule.

People at the Ash Wednesday service said in their childhoods, Lent was the longest and hardest time of all, a long period until Easter without TV or candy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Celebrate March 8th

Rule Out Euthymia, short story

My sister is stuck in a physical passion. She describes it as an aura that lasts longer than the time it takes to watch a film, but after a real film, the credits roll, the illusion breaks, and the color of life seeps back in, one reminder at a time, until one is who one is again, even when the film is about sick passion.

The man Juni calls Bing hurts her feelings compulsively then screws her so completely that her wish to talk about it is drummed from her forever—forever, that is, until the next time. We come to her rescue (by now it is less often than she would like), but we cannot rescue her; no one can. She turns on us, on him, on everyone. I have seen her snap at a bank teller, and my sister is hardly ever rude. That, too, must be part of the high or demon or whatever it is that costs the pretty penny. "How would you know?" she says. "You're not a guy."

As a sinner who has bowed devoutly to four years of psychotherapy myself, I see what she is up to, and I care, to a point. To care any more than I do would keep it my problem.

Bing is just a trucker. That is what I tell our mother. I say, "Mom, all it is is, Juni has a thing for men with guts," but our mother did not raise her daughters to have "things" for anything, let alone for men "with guts." She raised them to help those who need help, not to ask for help, and to live in married certitude with men without guts.

Men like her dead husband, our dead lawyer father, who folded over his desk at ten of one evening. What husband? I used to say in the days before his death, before my own therapy, where I was reminded that every situation in life is of my own making. He left behind a wife, six daughters—all of us named after trees or shrubs—and an ungodly insurance policy. No one carries that much insurance.

Bing's father died standing up doing shift work. I should say, he fell over. Bing was twenty-one. I tell our mother that that is not why.

Juni's counselor, salesperson for higher powers who serve addictive personalities here on earth, has told us that only twelve steps and fifteen thousand dollars can save Juni: Juni is a co-sex addict.

When Juni is not threatening extreme unction to hotline volunteers (she calls hotlines in other cities when the hotline number in our city is busy), she tells us that Bing is the smartest man she has ever known—witness his survival as a teenager at a juvenile detention center and his finesse on the Interstate Highway System. Leave it to me to imagine what they do on it when Juni is with him and not barely at her job for the state.

Our youngest sister, Jade, wants to know what the deal is; although she wouldn't say it to me, she wants to be, as her sister is, in love. Jade is seventeen. As far as I know Jade is still a virgin, although I think that Mr. Biebel molested her when she was nine. She can't remember, but she hates her stomach and thighs. I believe that Mr. Biebel had a crack at all of us, except for maybe Holly, the third born. None of us really remembers what happened, but we all have improper relations with food. Holly has never had one disordered thought about food in all her life, and she never fell in love so badly that she failed to graduate from college, or, like me, to leave it. As a nutritionist, I hope to ban Biebels from the refrigerator, at least from refrigerators in Milwaukee, but it leaves me feeling marooned after French philosophy, where I first learned to play a field.

In her belief that Juni is lucky, Jade eases the horrors our mother suffers at night, not because Juni is stuck in a physical passion, but because the whole family and whole groups of strangers know what Juni is doing for sex. Juni does not have sex, I tell Jade. Juni is sex.

Lately, Juni is thin. Her breasts are small. She may not obviously resemble a man, but it saves everyone the trouble of self-differentiation. It bothers me that no one in her support group has even mentioned it. They mention humiliating moments, but apparently not the humiliating belief that one does not have the right to eat. Bing certainly does not suffer that humiliation. He eats her, like a hamburger or a donut. "I'm not thin, Laurel," she says. "I'm not even normal size. Look at these!" she cries, clutching at the flimsy sides of her hips and legs.

She needs exercise, but if I say it, she will feel condemned. She will worry that she doesn't fuck right. It will be like a man upping the ante all over again from the cover of a women's magazine.

Sometimes I think that if Juni knew women in more wholesome circumstances than in their own decrepitude that she would be all right. All she has in the way of women are support groups and her family. And what is family, really?

She has the prayer that Jesus brought her, but, as she told her group, she does not pray while Bing is hovering over her. She prays later, to his sleeping corpse, when it's over, and she's done, first to us, then to him, then alone.

Our mother, Geraldine—as she likes to remind us—is hip. She goes catalog shopping, not because she couldn't spend whole days in ceremony in department stores if she wanted to nor because she wouldn't do that if her lifestyle depended on it, but because cranberry-ale cardigans and pewter-puff pullovers communicate her optimism. She hopes that by her example her daughters will stop wearing only black. Her friends call her Geri, a name with a tweeter to it, a flip, as if Geri were someone who couldn't help but be her own person (men's names on women always serve that way), but our mother is Mom first and Mrs. Reeve Baumgaard second, even though Mr. Baumgaard has been dead for almost twelve years.

Since Juni met Bing, she wears torn blue jeans and men's white v-necks, and because she is as thin as a boy, people say she looks great in them. She wears what she finds on Bing's floor, where he lives with his father's half-brother, or she gives up afternoons tugging through racks at the Salvation Army.

Jade and I like the real thing: We go real shopping with Mom's credit card. Jade is in high school and doesn't have a job, and my stipend as a research assistant barely covers my efficiency apartment and the food I buy, which is expensive—raw nuts and seeds, yogurt farmed in small batches, organic apricot juice. Jade and I both wear size 12, which I sense has been a deep disappointment to Mr. Biebel—all the more reason to buy the most flattering, extravagant clothing we can find. Sometimes we shop sales; other times we just grab the car keys and head for Rome. We buy the new fall line before it hits the racks. We buy make-up, too, especially lipstick, my favorite way to kiss off a Biebel, but I admit, it's a little compulsive.

The middle three—Holly, Heather, and Lily (her real name is Lilac)—are all married and living elsewhere—Holly in Denver, Heather in Coon Rapids, and Lily in Waco. We mainly see them at Christmas, when we all tend to wear what our mother has bought us.

Bing is 34, and like a lot of men just over thirty, he bloats on beer. If Juni were not a co-sex addict, she would be a co-alcoholic. His work gives him a good ass and good legs—all that climbing in and climbing out, loading and unloading. I can see the attraction on that level, and that is the level we are talking about. Since as a family we are opposed to Bing, it would be hypocritical to ask Juni what sort of torso he has. Bing is too polite or too self-conscious to take off his shirt in our presence, so we don't know how strong or hairy he is there. We are just left wondering.


Lucretia, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, 1666

Monday, March 06, 2006

Diatribe (def.)

di'-a-tribe, n. [Gr. diatribe, a wearing away, waste of time, pastime, from diatribein, to rub away, waste.] a discourse or dispute; specifically, one of bitter, malicious criticism and abuse.

-- from Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, deluxe 2nd edition

Sunday, March 05, 2006


My real list of things I have done that were wrong:

I mocked my baby sister. I sang a song that claimed she was "born in Asia."

The night we watched Sybil on TV I was babysitting her. After the show, which didn't seem to scare us that much, I went into the hallway where there was a full-length mirror and imitated all of Sybil's personalities. My sister started screaming, and for a full three minutes, I kept up what I was doing.

Once I slapped her then immediately embraced her.

Once I took her on a bike ride and offered her a cigarette. She was in third grade. She said no and called me a "moker."

It sounds like I didn't love her, but even as a child, I loved her more than I loved any friend.

I ordered the declawing of my beloved cat, Lucy. This was to appease, not a landlord, but a future roommate who moved out to live with her boyfriend as soon as I had moved in.

I have done some really stupid things at the bidding of women. There was that, Lucy's declawing, a virtual nightmare for us, and one I didn't repeat with the other cats, Francis and now Walter. I also went on someone's diet for her in eleventh grade. I lost 20 precious pounds and three years to a mental obsession with dieting. I had an abortion at 22 when the other women -- two lesbians who had cheated me -- said I really ought to do that for them and the cause. One of the causes was that I was to go to graduate school; they believed I was already in danger of not going since I lived with an "oppressor," a man. I didn't live with just any man, however; he was not some man, any man; he was a life partner. He had nothing against my going to graduate school. It's stupid for the women just to pack up and go to graduate school, I think now. Graduate school is like a cruise that lasts four years or six. You work the deck. At the end, you owe a lot of money and there are no jobs. Then people say there had been no point in doing it in the first place, since you're in personal and financial ruin.

My aunt was a rocket scientist. Her name was Frances Alsmiller, and she worked as a physicist on the Apollo Project. I always had thought she was a doctor. We never met due to a 1930s adoption.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Letters, notes, conversations, partings

Dates: November 1996 to August 2000, 4 years
Setting: Living with my mother at 34-38 years of age
Contexts: Reconciling my past as present-tense delays, i.e., AQ's stmt., "authority over one's own story & fictions"


How to tell jokes apart
Meeting metaphors
Metaphors for meeting
Metaphors for meaning
Matching metaphors
Writing as parallel form
Writing a parallel line
Seeing stealing
Stealing seeing
Stealing as seeing
Embarrassing commitments
Death or metaphor
Scenes at birth
Fertility: early births, sentient beings, gray couplets
Real Estate
Reassigning blame
Exemplifying shame
Blaming naming
Work or money
Love, sex, and money
Arranged affairs
Babies as status
Babies as inheritance
Woman as disease
ISMS as routing mechanisms
Medical modes
Medical models and journey to self-assessment
Wedding or gathering
Mirror is for them
Mirror is more for me
Enne is in Hennepin
Enne is in Kennedy
N. is for ant
V. is for variety
Z. is for zix
A. is for ana
B. is for book
C. is for call cat
D. is for door
E. is for renaissance
F. is for frank
G. is for God
H. is for hilarious
I. is for desire
J. is for Jesus
K. is for Kennebunk
L. is for Love
M. is for Man
N. is for Harvest
O. is for open
P. is for pianissimo
Q. is for Queen
R. is for return
S. is for sex
S. is for money
T. is for tip
U. is for most likely you
V. is for woman
W. is for war
X. is for kiss
Y. is for six
Z. is for sleep

1. is for create it
2. is for receive it
3. is for difficulty at the beginning
4. is for warfools
5. is for waiting
6. is for conflict
7. is for heaven
8. is for Scots law
8. is for unity
9. is for desire
10. is for ten
11. is for peace
12. is for tribal consciousness
13. is for gathering

14. is for harvest
15. is for modesty
16. is for enthusiasm
17. is for chase
18. is for recovery
19. is for prevail
20. is for inner view
21. is for decide
22. is for grace
23. is for losing
24. is for return
25. is for propriety
26. is for big animal
27. is for Jesus
28. is for smart, sexy, unmarried, single, childless, childlike, mothery, mature, vaginally orgasmic, servile, nature lover, artist
29. is for crossing the water
30. is for fire or conclusion
31. is for woo
32. is for endurance
33. is for Jesus
34. is for the first next thing
35. is for progress
36. is for dark goodness
37. is for family
38. is for the next first thing
39. is for warning
40. is for deliverance
41. is for decrease
42. is for increase
43. is for resolution
44. is for meeting
45. is for gathering or illness
46. is for transcendence or flight
47. is for exhaustion
48. is for the well
49. is for revolution
49. is for change
49. is for re-sister
49. is for re-volition
50. is for ting
51. is for shock
52. is for mountain
53. is for gentle progress
54. is for marrying maiden
54. is never for infernal bridegroom
55. is for abundance
56. is for traveler
57. is for wind
58. is for joy
59. is for dissolution
60. is for Ron's age
61. is for inner truth
62. is for little issuings
63. is for completion
64. is for pre-completion

Everywhere words:

tuning fork
Christa wants a baby each time
Gage is a friend
Ann is defined
Alexis is a writer
Eric is a father
mIEKAL, Michael, and Mike are fathers
Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary, Mary
Debbie O., Debbie Y.
Jack is Jack
Jack is John Joseph
Peter is Pete
Peter is Peter
Beth is Soeur
Florence is a master technician of sacred Latin horticultures
Mom is a fight
Dad is definitely dead
Neil Young said Daddy was clinging
Clarinet is muscle tone
"Sandy" is a fright
Clare de la Zeitung
Clarice Lispector is cronicas
Ann is ana
The short story is the most important literary form of the 20th c.
Ana is a recycling choice
Experimentalism is recycling
Memoir is mer-memory
Fiction is a right

I'll Never Look Black

Morning pages from December 4, 1998

Wanted to go over and do Quicken but found myself here in wordpad writing a morning page. I would like not to write a morning page but am too obedient not to do it. In The Artist's Way the day will come when I read the pp. and see my fucking problems more clearly. What a horrible reading again last night. The State Arts Board likes me more. Maybe they are against me for bipolar white femininity.

I heard some good stuff last night but I am tired of being a connoseur (sp.) of bad poetry and song and ick. Want some rigid good quality to follow my fall. Want an agent, an editor, a publicist, a scout to find me readings. Want really to be the best writer and person I can be, and the universe dishes discouragement occasionally, and I face it rather bravely.

Good will to Gage and her endeavors. I'm very pleased for her and her recent breaks.

Trouble with M. He will not see the day as a time focus thing. People much dumber than we have made their way through recovery programs. He doesn't really mean it, again. He wants what he wants. He is probably doing a good job in new areas nonetheless.

Jack contact back to strong, though no sex.

Tired of my circles. God, let me off the circle ride. God, speak to me in my daily driving rituals. Tell me how I am doing. Tell me when I deserve it all, love.

Forgive me for being impetuous and ungrateful and not serene. Forgive the others for their potential judgments. Forgive me for not forgiving Holly her opinion. Forgive me for not forgiving her her superficiality. Forgive me for having drifted from my homebase at the University. Forgive me for missing smart people trained as I am trained. Forgive me for my disruptive politics.

Give me a mission such as the one that Toni Morrison has or Maya Angelou. I'll never look black. I'll never know my roots. I'm here as a here person. Let me be here now.

Let the precancer not bloom in my mouth, the stains not form, the drink not happen. Let me be colder and older than I am. Let me smile for myself and not wait to be told. Let me be a thinker not a looker. Let me look good as a matter of course. Let me look as I do, good when good. Let me not fall into disease. Let me keep up my boundaries, limits, standards. Let me think on Bruce. Let me recover. Let me pray for all who need my prayers. Let me remember the power of prayer. Let me release. Let me have faith and belief. Let me be useful. Let me come out on the bottom if it will help anyone or the top if the top needs me.

Let me find my writing pick ax and shovel. Let me craft each word with pure lovingness. Let me tell stories again. Let me not walk as if this were my personal Viet Nam War. Let me find shelter and peace and my God-given talents. Let me come out as a believer. Let me follow my first start.