On the Road Again, Again   Friday, November 21, 2008


We made it back midweek from the excursion I was journaling in last week's issue. My poems this week continue that journey to its end.

I also have a few poems from our friends, but just a few. There's lots for us to catch up on, now that we're home, and "Here and Now" is only a part of it.

I also have, as usual, a selection of poets from my library.

Friends of "Here and Now"

Alex Stolis
Katie Sottak
Michael Sottak
Alice Folkart
Thane Zander

From my library

Paul Kane
Ann E. Thompson
Libba Moore Gray
Campbell McGrath
Julia Alvarez
Richard Howard
Mary Jo Bang
J.P. White
Aleda Shirley
James Hoggard
Demetria Martinez

I'm beginning this week with several poems by Paul Kane from his book Work Life.

Kane is the author of two previous collections of poems, The Farther Shore and Drowned Lands. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as Fulbright and Mellon grants, he teaches at Vassar College and lives in New York.


There on the stoop alone
when all along we thought
he'd be the first to go.

So much said in that wave:
the hand languid - as though
moving through water.

I nod and walk by - words
are clumsier than gesture.
The body knows its own.

For My Father Dying

I did my weeping a long time ago.
It was in Venice, on a family trip -
Planned for the fiftieth anniversary -
And I accompanied you back to the hotel
By Vaporetto while the others went
On to see the horses of San Marco.

Golden June, Venice at its best, and you
Proposed martinis - a drink I never drink -
But down we went to the waterside bar
And despite our doubts the Italian bartender
Made good ones - knowing his Americans -
And it was a joy to be with you in enjoyment.

The youthful glint and manner back again
After so many years, and when I led
You to your room, then found my own, I lay
Down and the tears came. I wept long and hard
and knew it was for the day that comes
Sooner than tears anticipate.

Dear Margie

I don't know what life looks like from the other
side of life, but I know what death looks like

from here: like sorrow and grief and loss
and people gathered in a long remembrance -

like a winter's shadow in the afternoon.
Dear Margie, do you smile at us because

we love you or because we don't understand?
When you died you left us your life -

you've finished with it, but we haven't,
and won't, until we've finished with our own.

Your life - that shinning thing in your eyes,
that laugh, ebullient like a spring

in a mountain pool, and as generous in its flow.
Your life remains with us -

you don't need it now, but we do.
It was always part of ours anyway.

I pick up my travel journal this week on the seventh day.

day 7


a long day
yesterday, so today
we decide to take it easy

breakfast first, we think,
but, over the 10 miles from our hotel
in Salem,
to Market Square in the center of Roanoke
we see not a single restaurant, not even more than
two or three fast food joints
which i exclude from the category of acceptable dining

finding a place to park at Market Square
we begin asking
about food

a fellow at the farmers' market
suggests Ernie's,
right around the corner,
a tiny little place, long and narrow,
just wide enough to set up a line booths from front to back
and a couple of stools
backing up against the grill

it is crowded, only one booth left when we slip in the door,
and noisy, downtown people, hardhats to neckties
and all fashions in between

Ernie the proprietor is also Ernie the cook

best breakfast
in months - 2 eggs over easy,
sausage patties, dry wheat toast
and thick, dark coffee

after a walk around the square
we settle in for a tour
of the art museum

a large futuristic building,
ten galleries
of art
with lots of blank space between pieces

$16.00 for the two of us -
makes me wonder when public art, funded by public money,
will become available
at prices the general public can afford to pay

some great photos in one gallery,
come classic American portraiture
in another; one gallery devoted
to the construction of the museum itself
and several other rooms
whose contents so impressed me
that i can't remember a thing about them now

except for the homeless man
in the corner of one of the galleries,
not real, of course,
but a presentation of reality,
an essay on invisibility
as museum visitor after museum visitor,
myself included,
walked past with out seeming to see him,
stopped and looked at paintings hanging over
the space where "he" slept
and not seeing, as if the homeless
lived in an alternate universe, unseen and unknown
to us until they panhandle us
or scream and rant on a street corner

having seen
what we could find to see
at Market Square,
we headed out toward Lynchburg
and Poplar Forest,
Thomas Jefferson's second home and plantation

we find the home
following a series of smaller and smaller roads
and finally a narrow driveway
through a deep forest of tall poplar trees

acting as his own architect,
Jefferson created an octagonal structure,
a shape he preferred for better light
and ventilation,
with wide verandahs front and back
fronted by Greek columns,
sitting in its high place
looking like a temple
on some high Greek mountain

from his grand verandah
could look down on the nearest
of his 4,000 plus acres

large poplar
yellow leaves
still holding on
despite the lateness
of the season;
a gentle slope of close-cut
a creek running fast;
another pasture, tobacco fields
in Jefferson’s time, a crop he despised
but planted anyway
because he needed the cash;
a forest of poplar trees broken
by a winding crushed-shell drive

around the side
and in the back, slave quarters,
not for the cultivated eyes
of the gentlemen and ladies
of the Commonwealth of Virginia

such an enigma,
a genius, the greatest mind
among the founders, and perhaps
the most conflicted,
hated tobacco as a noxious weed,
a destroyer of the soil,
but grew it anyway,
a slave holder who hated slavery,
saw it as a vile practice
despoiling the country he helped create,
but never freed a slave,
until his death,
and then only his own slave family

it is of such contradictions
that this American nation is made,
some still visible
even to a passing eye
in these short seven days of travel

Sapphire (born Ramona Lofton in 1950 in Fort Ord, California) is an author and performance poet. She attended City College of San Francisco and City College of New York. She obtained her Master's Degree at Brooklyn College.

She held various jobs before starting her writing career, working as an exotic dancer, a performance artist, a social worker, and a teacher of reading and writing. Her first novel, Push, brought her much praise and some controversy for its graphic account of a young woman growing up in a cycle of incest and abuse. She lives and works in New York City.

This next poem is the title poem from her first book of poetry, American Dreams. It is a very long poem by "Here and Now" standards, but not so long at all by hers.

American Dreams

Suspended in a sea of blue-gray slate
I can't move from the waist down
which brings visions & obsessions of & with
quadriplegics & paraplegics,
wondering how they live, smell,
why they don't just die.
Some people wonder that about blacks,
why they don't just die.
A light-skinned black woman I know
once uttered in amazement about a black black woman
"I wanted to know how did she live
being as black as she was!"
I don't quite know how to get free
of the karma I've created
but I can see clearly now
that I have created my life.
My right ankle has mud in it,
I'm in debt.
I need dental work
& I am alone.
Alone if I keep seeing myself
through "Donna Reed" & "Father Knows Best" eyes,
if I don't see my friends,
people who care,
giving as much from their lives as they can.
If you live in the red paper valentine of first grade
   in 1956
then you are alone.
If you live in the world of now
of people struggling free
then you are not.

Isolation rises up
like the marble slabs
placed on the front
of cheat concrete high-rises
width apartments that start at 500,000 dollars.
It all seems so stupid
but I understand now,
why they have homeless people
sleeping in front of these
artificial-penis-looking building.
It's so we'll move in,
so such terror will be implanted
in our guts
we'll save our money
& buy a concrete box
to live in & be proud
to call it home.
All anybody really wants
is some security,
a chance to live comfortably
until the next
unavoidable tragedy
unavoidably hits them
& slices open their chests,
& takes the veins from their legs,
& carves up their heart
in the name of surgery
or vicious murder
No one,
can protect you
from the murderer.
Not the police, nuclear weapons, your mother, the
Republicans, mx missiles -
Even if you get all the niggers
out the neighborhood
the murderer might be
a white boy like David Berkowitz
baby-faced Jewish boy
who rarely misses a day
of work at the post office.
ha! ha! ha!
you're never safe!
Like a crab walking sideways
America hides its belly
under an arsenal of radioactive crust,
creeping along with its
long crustacean eyes,
stupid & blind
sucking debris from
the ocean floor
till there is no more,
while the giant Cancer breasts
get biopsied & amputated
& the crab caves in
under the third world's dreams
& million pounds of concrete.
& the murderer
stabs stabs stabs
at the underbelly &
fly out
& claim
your life,
while the powers that don't be
for a loving circle jerk
& nostalgic reminiscence
of days gone by,
lighting candles for Roy Cohn
& J. Edgar Hoover
as they lay a bouquet of cigarettes
on John Wayne's grave
who is clandestinely slipping
into the wax museum
to suck Michael Jackson's dick
only to find he has had his penis
surgically reconstructed
to look like Diana Ross's face.
& the Trane flies on
like Judy Grahn's wild geese
over a land diseased like cancer
killing flowers by the hour
& a huge hospice
opens up in the sky
& the man quietly tells his wife
as he picks up his rifle,
"I'm going people hunting."
& he steps calmly
into McDonald's & picks off
20 people
& blood pours red
Big Macs fall flat
to the floor amid
shrieks & screams
while a plastic clown
smiles down on the house
additives & the destruction of
the rain forests built.
& you smile for a while
feeling ever so American
& in good company
as you eat compulsively.
After all,
the whole country does it.
It's just pasta heaven here
till you get your x-ray
of biopsy back.
Making the world safe
for democracy
& you can't even evade
heart disease
until you're 40
and it attacks quietly
walking on those big
expensive sneakers
niggers wear
as they shove the pawn shop gun
to your head & say
& for once you are not afraid
cause the nigger has AIDS,
you laugh triumphantly,
finally you've given him
& the world
everything you got!

I was at Clark Center for the Performing Arts
getting ready for my monthly ballet class
when this old wrinkled-up faggot
ran up to me, threw his arms around me & grabbed me
in a vise-like grip & screamed:
He held on & wouldn't let go.
Finally I thought to turn
my hand into a claw
& raked it straight down his face
with my fingernails.
He let go.
I'll never forget how
hurt & bewildered he looked.
I guess he was just playing.
I was just devastated.

There are no words
for some forms
of devastation
though we constantly
try to describe
what America has done
& continues to do to us.
We try to describe it
without whining
or quitting
or eating french fries
or snorting coke.
It is so hard not
to be an addict in America
when you know numerology
& have x-rayed the inside
of Egyptian mummies 5,000 years old
& robbed the graves of Indians
deliberately blinded children
& infected monkeys & rats
with diseases you keep alive
waiting for the right time
so you can spring'em
on anyone who might be making progress.

Well, you're miserable now America.
The fact you put a flag
on the moon
doesn't mean you own it.
You can't steal everything
all the time
from everybody.
You can't have the moon, sucker.

A peanut farmer
you could not stay number 1:
number 1 being an illusion
in a circle, which is
what the world is,
but you still think that
the world is flat
& you can drive out evil
with a pitchfork & pickup truck.

One time when I was a little girl living on an army base
I was in the gymnasium & the general walked in.
& the general is like god or the president, if you believe.
The young woman who was supervising
the group of children I was with said,
"Stand up everybody! The general's here."
Everybody stood up except me.
The woman looked at me & hissed,
"Stand up for the general!"
I said, "My father's in the army, not me."
& I remained seated
& throughout 38 years
of bucking & winging
grinning & crawling
brown nosing & begging
there has been a quiet
10 year old in my
who has remained seated.
She perhaps is the real American Dream.

The next three pieces are from our friend Alex Stolis who never seems to run out of ideas.

These are from his very recently completed project, on the run with dick & jane. I'll give you more information on this when it's available.

(2:52 A.M.)- Days & Deeds (Undone)

I will tell you all the secrets colors keep to themselves -
the deep blue of faith used to paint my name
on your arm

the pale yellow of fulfillment, the cool green
of silence on the highway at midnight.

With my hand on your ribs I ask you to save the pearl white
of innocence for last and you laugh,
not wanting to believe there are more ways for us to sin

I whisper your name and it gets lost in the buzz
of neon-you mumble plans to run south, hide in memories
that pull the sun away from us

in the end I will reassemble the past
piece by broken piece, crack open that last scene
and watch our future bleed to the floor.

(3:15 A.M.) Panoramas & More Panoramas

I ask if you can taste the sparks
in my mouth, smell the earth in my hair and wonder aloud
why each road we have ever taken leads us to the edge of guilt

we watch the rain come from the east, it spills on the highway
and each rumble
brings with it the feeling of desire

we're helpless as the moon dies
in shallow water. I tell you to stop.

Wait for me

but every mile you drive we become further apart
the radio fades in, then out, then back and we get lost again
and again

let's forget where we're going, turn around and go back
to those one syllable days when we were ravenous and unafraid.

Attempting to learn Tai Chi (her version)

Jane said the desert was a reminder of deeds done, laws gone

past and stories that would never be. When they got to Mexico

the plan was to drink, maybe waste a week or two in search

of greener pastures but mostly sit stranded in the eye of a storm

and wait for winter to whisper through their belongings.

February was looking like a one way ticket back to Davenport

and by all accounts the guitar player in the Juarez dive was right -

buckets of rain would never add up to a river

I have a couple of poems now from All Around Us: Poems from the Valley, a poetry anthology published by the Knoxville Writer's Guild.

(I drove through Knoxville last week, one of the places I'd like to go back to for a longer visit.)

The first of the poems is by Ann E. Thompson, a native Memphian who received her BA from Arkansas State University.

I feel a personal connection to this poem having worked for a small newspaper many years ago that published with a press like the one described. It was a special treat to go back to the press room every weekday afternoon and watch the press roll, blank paper turning into the news of the for the little communities the paper served.

Gone to Press

A nuts and bolts creature,
the German beast lies still
as men force feed her
cyan soy ink and oil her joints.
X-ray-like plates are fit
in her metal-fashioned belly,
and paper rolls are webbed
through her skeleton.
With the flick of switches,
power vibrates through her frame.
She churns with the clink
of parts moving in mechanic rhythm
as broadsheets snake
through her iron innards.
Black-handed old timers
stand by as she stamps
on page after page,
bleeding he news
of Jack Owens, county sheriff,
who blew his head off
in the Gulf station
at Hollywood and James.
Old Ruff watches his child
spit the paper in his hand.
She will be tomorrow's dinosaur,
left to sit in he Smithsonian
and have her brittle bones
stared at by kids on field trips.

The next poem from All Around Us: Poems from the Valley is by Libba Moore Gray. Before her death, Gray published six children's books and left behind a number of pieces due for release.

Being Home

I have a friend who said the mountains were oppressive
smothered her
any day she said
green mold growing on her tongue
under her fingernails
moss for hair
green tendrils for arms and legs
she ran home to New Mexico
David left for San Antonio
Anne for Washington
Larry for Mississippi
Gretchen for South Carolina
Pat for Charlottesville
I'm still here
dipping green from mountain pools
blowing green smoke in the air
unwrapping kudzu vines from legs
listening to the whippoorwill sing a green hymn to the moon
while algae swims slowly over my lids.

Next from me, the journey continues through the eighth day.

day 8

North Carolina

2,601 miles

cold in Roanoke,
42 degrees,
and damp
with a stiff north wind

our plan
for today is to drive the
Blue Ridge Parkway,
that section of it from
to Asheville, 233 miles,
following the boney ribs
of the Appalachians
though Virginia
and into North Carolina

it will take all day

through the curves
and thick forest
of poplar and pine,
leaves falling like
golden snow,
we begin to climb

the road is good,
a federal park road,
two lanes, well maintained

a half dozen
wild turkey
along the roadside,
by our passing

a fat deer
i see ahead
leaps across the road
and through the trees

the weather,
bad when we started
gets worse

we had started
of a cold front
rushing down from
Lake Erie
and for a while
we stayed ahead,
but every time we stopped,
for a picture,
to give Reba a walk and sniff
and pee break,
or just for a walk -around
for ourselves,
the front passed over us
and for a while
we would be in its midst

we are enfolded
by the rain
and the fog
and the forest all around us

all of the facilities
along the way,
lodges are closed
for the winter,

but many small mountain
line the route, some
a quarter mile or less
off the parkway

lunch in little Maybry Mill,
Becky's Home Cooking

from what we see,
Becky might be the middle-aged fellow
who takes our order, grills our burger,
and collects our money when we're done

an oil field looking guy
like i used to see around the oil patch
in South Texas,
two fingers missing
and permanent grease under
the nails that remain

he's the only person we see,
but for a family - mom, dad,
boy with a gimme cap,
and a little blond girl
who keeps looking at me -
and an older man who says
he's waiting for a business
associate to join him for a meeting

each time we get behind
the cold front
it takes longer to get ahead again

we are stuck in it
and cannot catch up

grand vistas
across green and gold hills around us,
cleared pastures,
little villages
with little white houses
and broken-down barns
and church steeples
and yellow school buses
parked behind schools closed
for the weekend

the temperature
at 3,700 feet
is 37 degrees,
a fierce cold wind
blows through the wooded valleys
and across the high crests,
so strong
it billows my levi jacket
out from my back like blue wings,
almost lifting me over the edge

the chill factor is in the teens

it begins to snow
as we approach Boone, North Carolina

to take us off the parkway
and on to hwy. 26 to Asheville

"a day of fishing"
painting by Katie Sottak

I am very pleased to have this week more paintings by Katie Sottak, a fine young artist and daughter of poet and frequent "Here and Now" contributor Michael Sottak.

"a night in pari"
painting by Katie Sottak

"a taste of new england"
painting by Katie Sottak

"hazel drizzle"
painting by Katie Sottak

painting by Katie Sottak

"whiskey tide"
painting by Katie Sottak

Campbell McGrath was born in Chicago in 1962 and grew up in Washington, D.C., where he attended Sidwell Friends School. He received his B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1984 and his MFA from Columbia University's creative writing program in 1988. He currently lives in Miami, Florida, and teaches creative writing at Florida International University.

He is the author of six full-length collections of poetry, including him most recent Pax Atomica.

The next poem is from Florida Poems, one of his earlier collections published in 2002 by HarperCollins. It is a beautiful piece about the sorrowful loss of language.

The Calusa

For the way the waves of the new-moon water
cross the wide flats of salt-mud and marl
to spill and pool and lap and purl
amongst the roots of the red and black mangroves
there is no word in you wide-traveled tongues.

In our language it was called:

Here is a word for a certain star which is also a flower:
Here is a river-fish, the alligator gar:
Here is a way of speaking of the character of a warrior
unskilled in the ways of village women:

The name of our brother, the great blue heron:
Our brother, who is also our enemy, the hammerhead shark:
A word for the way a greenback turtle lays her eggs:
For the mighty cypress from which we craft our war-canoes:
The name of the wind in the season of pelicans:
A way of saying many whelks or bountiful:
Infant seahorses cradled in brine:
Sand dollar worn through the ear of the chieftain's daughter
Masks in the forms of crocodiles, dolphins, panthers:

Because our carvers and craftsmen
had not learned to forge Spanish metals
the sacred figures of our artifacts are lost.

Because our priests and storytellers
had not mastered the scribal sorcery of letters
our words vanished with us
like the small round seals rich with fat
we hunted in such numbers to feast upon,

animals whose bones endure in our shell mounds and middens
as the ghost of our language moans through the names of our villages
disfigured by the accents of those
plucked from the torture fires to live amongst us:

Calos, Tanpa, Yobe, Guacata, Escampaba, Mayaimi

A man has three souls: his shadow,
the reflection he finds waiting to watch in still water,
the flame that dances in the pupil of his eye.
Two perish with him while one abides,
and the name of the eternal spirit is:

Here is a word for a rookery of flamingos and scarlet ibis:
A word for the color of the gulf at first light:

A word for us, the fierce people: Calusa.

Speaking of Michael Sottak, father of Katie, here's one of his pieces, typically hard-hitting and controversial.

the smell

comes from the alley
piss fermenting in a narrow shadow
i look at my socks for a second
a shadow occludes the moment
the musty rhetoric of forty years
and equal opportunity is begging
for another dollar

how long
equal in eyes of government
nothing has changed

how long do i have to work
my ass to the bone my feet broken
and my shoulders worn
my hands calloused
scars on my face
to come home to this

eight months a year at sea
so they can collect benefits
from uncle sam
you tell me

well nothing is perfect
nor will it ever be
but why do i owe
them entitlements?

Next, I'm back again to poems by Julia Alvarez from her book Homecoming.

Alvarez, a poet, novelist and essayist, was born in New York in 1950. A Dominican-American, she and her family moved back to their native Dominican Republic while she was still an infant. They stayed there until she was 10 years old, when the family fled back to the United States after her father participated in underground activities against the military dictator Trujillo.

Homecoming was her first book, published in 1984. Her breakthrough came in 1991 with the publishing of the international bestseller How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, which was subsequently chosen as a notable selection by the American Library Association.

Three months after she fled with her family back to the United States, the leaders of the underground railroad, the Mirabal sisters that aided their escape, were murdered. She based her second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies, on these events. The book was later made into a film produced by Salma Hayek.

Alvarez was a poet in the schools for the Kentucky Arts Commission from 1975 to 1977. In that capacity she visited elementary schools, high schools, colleges and communities throughout the state conducting writing workshops and giving readings.

In 1978, she served in the same capacity with senior citizens in Fayetteville, North Carolina, under the aegis of the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arts Council of Fayetteville. This project produced an anthology, Old Age Ain't For Sissies. She also conducted workshops in English and Spanish at Mary Williams Elementary School in Wilmington, Delaware sponsored by the Delaware Arts Council and the Wilmington School District. This project produced an anthology, Yo Soy/I Am.

Alvarez taught English and creative writing at California State University, Fresno, College of the Sequoias, Phillips Andover Academy (a 9-12 boarding school), University of Vermont, George Washington University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before coming to Middlebury College as an assistant professor in 1988. She was promoted to full professor in 1996 and resigned her tenured position to write full time in 1998. The college created the position of writer-in-residence for her, where she continues to teach creative writing on a part-time basis, advise Latino students, and serve as an outside reader for creative writing theses by English majors., University of Vermont, George Washington University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign before coming to Middlebury College as an assistant professor in 1988. She was promoted to full professor in 1996 and resigned her tenured position to write full time in 1998. The college created the position of writer-in-residence for her, where she continues to teach creative writing on a part-time basis, advise Latino students, and serve as an outside reader for creative writing theses by English majors.

One of my favorite parts of Homecoming is a section of short prose pieces written as if pages in her diary. Together, they are the story of a person searching for a life, unsure, at her young age nearly 25 years ago, that such exists for her.

Here's a sample of those pieces.

My gay friends ask, Well are you gay or what?
And men agree we're friends, but don't I want
a man? Or husband, my mother wonders,
Don't you want children? My sister wishes
I'd end up with a man who also wants
to change the world and is willing to work
for it. The two of you could do peace work
and stuff, she says, certainly you'd worry
less if you were having sex. It's weird
not to be with someone, man or woman,
even a nun though celibate is wed
to Jesus Christ. What kind of woman
are you? I wish I knew, I say, I wish
I knew and could just put it into words.


33 is the year that Jesus christ
embraced His life, the minister teases.
I've come to take the edge of loneliness
by being convinced that maybe god exists,
is with me in the empty bed, with
me for bread and tunafish since recipes
depress me with leftovers, and just is.
Wasn't he crucified at 33,
I ask, depressed, deserted by his friends,
divorced from god, subject to human laws?
Wasn't he the most single finally
at 33, meeting his lonely end?
Yes, the minister takes my hand, he was.


Are we all ill with acute loneliness,
chronic patients trying to recover
the will to love? Yet all we've suffered
from others and ourselves, all the losses
of faith in the human face - when we glimpsed
the animal in the mother's grimace
or in the lover's grin as he promised
the promise no one can keep - made us lapse
back into our separateness. We all feel
absence like a wound. Sometimes the love
of another wounded one acts like a salve
which soothes the dying self but cannot heal
our lives. And perhaps this is what if feels
like to be human, and we are all well?


My parents are in Germany as guests
of a Gerontology conference.
Mother mailed the cards so that they'd get
here on or about March 27th.
Today three strangely large envelopes came
with (in her hand) DO NOT OPEN UNITL
YOUR BIRTHDAY. The first card's a hallmark poem
about how daughters are incredible.
The second one is meant to make me laugh:
a middle finger tied with a ribbon
(a hint they missed) says, don't forget to have
a ball, love, Mom, Dad's name written by Mom.
In the last one's a check, the memo reads,
Get yourself something in our name you need.


Get yourself something in our name you need,
Sounds wistful, sounds like they already know
their daughter's life is turbulent, and so
to make up for it, here's pocket money!
Oh God, they think, watching the sad rain fall
from their Munich hotel the afternoon
of my birthday, Why did we bring children
into a world we can't make heads or tails
or sense out of? Perhaps they're visiting
monuments of man's inhumanity
to man, and turns to him asking simply
Why? And for comfort they hold hands wandering
where thousands died. And I want suddenly
to give them something, anything, they need.

The ninth day brings more bad weather, and a change in our plans.

day 9


2,962 miles

with bad weather
bearing down hard on us
we decided last night
to head south
to warmer weather,
but first one last stretch
of mountain vistas
across the Great Smoky Mountains

but the weather made a quicker turn
for the worse overnight than we had expected

heavy snow
during the night
has dusted white
across the lower elevations

thick dark clouds
wrap around the mountains,
covering them like a dirty white blanket

we asked our waitress
at the Waffle House
about what route she would recommend
and she was quick to say
we should stick to I-40 and bypass
the higher passes

the soft, slow slur
of a southern accent
can make a Southerner sound stupid
to many ears,
especially a Southern woman

those who believe it true

the day passes
dark and rainy,
begins with the long descent,
miles of descent
between snow powdered
to the lower lands of North Carolina
and then Alabama

i expected
cotton fields
but found forests, instead,
still with all the colors of fall,
turning more and more to green
as pines begin to infiltrate, then dominate,
tall thin giants
straight as fence posts
with a bushy crown at the very top

as the sun falls,
the closest we've come to ending the day
before dark

our hotel
near the interstate,
is easy to find -
for the first time
we settle into our room
before 9 p.m.

Richard Howard was born in Cleveland in 1929. He studied at Columbia University and the Sorbonne. After working for several years as a lexicographer, he became a translator for the French and has published more than 150 translations. In 1983, he received the American Book Award for his translation of Baudelaire's fleurs du mal.

He received the Pulitzer Prize for his third book of poems, Untitled Subjects and later received the Academy of Arts and Letters Literary Award for his poetry books.

He was formerly the poetry editor for The Paris Review and currently fills the same position with the Western Humanities Review. Formerly Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, he is currently Professor of Practice in the School of Arts Writing of Columbia University.

The next is a funny piece i may have used before (but I like it), taken from his book Trappings, published by Turtle Point Press in 1999.


The text of Bach's St. John Passion, performed tonight unabridged,
is largely derived from the Gospels, portions of which are alleged
(by some) to be antisemitic. Such passages may well disclose
historical attitudes fastened (by Bach himself) to the Jews,
but must not be taken as having (for that very reason) expressed
convictions or even opinions of the Management or of the cast.


The Rape of the Sabine Women, which the artist painted in Rome,
articulates Rubens's treatment of a favorite classical theme.
Proud as we are to display this example of Flemish finesse,
the policy of the Museum is not to be taken amiss:
we oppose all forms of harassment, and just because we have
this canvas in no way endorses the actions committed therein.


Ensconced in the Upper Rotunda alongside a fossil musk-ox,
the giant Tyrannosaurus (which the public has nicknamed "Rex"),
through shown in the act of devouring its still-living prey implies
no favor by public officials to zoophagous public displays;
carnivorous Life-Styles are clearly inappropriate to a State
which has already outlawed tobacco and may soon prohibit meat.

Here's a piece, a little theological interpretation, by our friend Alice Folkart.

Let Me Tell You

God is mine saith the Man,
and I follow his ways,
HE speaks only to me,
do you hear Him?
That booming in the distance?
I will tell you what He wants.
HE wants me to tell you
what He wants and wants you to do it
for me as His agent and interpreter.
He speaks in tongues
that He has taught me, only me,
that only I can understand.
But, I'll tell you what He says,
what He says to me and says to you to do
as I say, now listen to my booming voice.
He is mine, and you are too,
And I will show you the Way.

Next, I have a couple of poems from the October 2007 issue of Poetry.

The first poem is by Mary Jo Bang.

Bang was born in 1946 in Missouri and grew up in a suburb of St. Louis. She received a B.A. and M.A. in Sociology from Northwestern University, a B.A. in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Columbia University

She is the author of five books of poems, including Elegy, in 2007, The Eye Like a Strange Balloon, in 2004, The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of the Swans, in 2001), and Louise In Love, in 2001. Her first book, Apology for Want, published in 1997, was chosen for the Bakeless Prize.

Bang was the poetry co-editor of the Boston Review from 1995 to 2005. She continues to live in Missouri, where she is Professor of English and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Washington University.

And as in Alice

Alice cannot be in the poem, she says, because
She's only a metaphor for childhood
And a poem is a metaphor already
So we'd only have a metaphor

Inside a metaphor. Do you see?
They all nod. They see. Except for the girl
With her head in the rabbit hole. From this vantage,
Her bum looks like the flattened backside

Of a black and white panda. She actually has one
In the crook of her arm.
Of course it's stuffed and not living.
Who would dare hold real bear so near the outer ear?

She's wondering what possible harm might come to her
If she fell all the way down the dark she's looking through.
Would strange creatures sing songs
Where odd syllables came to a sibilant end at the end

Perhaps the sounds would be a form of light hissing.
Like when a walrus blows air
Through two fractured front teeth. Perhaps it would
Take the form of a snake. But if a snake, it would need a tree.

Could she grow one from seed? Could on make a cat?
Make it sit on a branch and fade away again
The moment you told it that the rude noise it was hearing
      was rational thought
With an axe beating on the forest door.

The next poem from Poetry is by J. P. White.

White has published four books of poems, including In Pursuit of Wings in 1978, The Pomegranate Tree Speaks from the Dictator's Garden in 1988, and The Salt Hour.

Minnesota Ice Train

Some men who are at least fifty-five
wake up in the night to touch their sex
like patting the family dog on the head.
Others rise to pace the square of their den
as if called to guard duty. Still others
peer back at me from their bedroom windows
as if on lookout for some lost shipment
to arrive from Bitterroot, Montana.

I uncurl in bed listening for the 3 AM train
to whip through Wayzata, hugging the lake
so close I imagine it could skip the hot rails
and skid across the ancestral ice toward me,
an ice train come to ferry me home or away
from my encircling command or back to some
earlier time when I too was more fiercely
racing the night, my body clamorous thumping,
the windows rattling, the length of me
moon-drenched, snow falling, sparks raking
my wheels, one more town flown through.

Now, the tenth day, and our last stop before heading home.

day 10


3,443 miles

three states today


when we began
in Birmingham,
low 40's
with a clear sunny sky,
the first
since we left Columbus
whatever many days ago

it is a beautiful day

our passage through
these most southern of states
is uneventful

lunch at a little truckstop
in Pearl River County,
3 county deputy sheriffs
at the table next to us,
all black,
making me think of my first
trip though the south,
on a bus
in the spring of 1966,
white and colored waiting rooms,
white and colored restrooms,
white and colored water fountains,
since the passage of the civil rights act
of a year earlier,
but lifelong habits break hard,
people still segregating themselves
because that's the way they knew

but hard or not,
habits change
and what could not be imagined
becomes routine

the forests
deepen and thicken

for awhile
the edges of
true wilderness can be seen

as we pass into Louisiana,
through Baton Rouge,
50 miles to Lafayette,
most of it on elevated highway
passing over lake and swamp

an easy end to the day
we expect,
the hotel is directly off the interstate
and it's still daylight

but the first hotel is a disaster,
three rooms,
all with one problem or another

after 30 minutes
of being moved from room to room,
we repack
and go to another hotel
next door

cajun cooking
at Prejeans for dinner,
spicy gumbo
and a dozen fried shrimp,
with a fiddle band
doing its best to play over
a large room full of loud-talking diners

early to bed tonight,
early to rise tomorrow

before dark,
if the gods of Houston traffic

Aleda Shirley received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Arts Commission, and the Kentucky Arts Council. Her poems appeared in such places as The American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry, and Virginia Quarterly Review.

Shirley's debut book of poems, Chinese Architecture, won the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber First Book Award in 1987. Her second poetry collection, Long Distance, received excellent reviews when published in 1996.

The poem I'm using is from her third book, Dark Familiar, was published in 2006 by Sarabande Books of Louisville, Kentucky.

Born in 1955, Shirley lived in Jackson, Mississippi at the time of her death earlier this year.

Blue Over Orange

October's first cold day & when I get in the car
my breath forms a brief chrysanthemum
on the inside of the windshield & I'm aware,

suddenly, of all the yellow leaking from the world,
the lost green veins of the leaves. On my list
of errands the last stop is the video store where

the movies I watched in college are now classified
as Cult Favorites or Classics & the beautiful boy
who works the counter rolls his eyes when I take out

the Truffaut for the dozenth time, Not again, he says.
He's nice to every one, but he sees me, if he sees me at all,
as an adult woman in a dark coat, with an expensive bag.

We touch only when we exchange money. The lobby
of a narrow French apartment, an alley of poplars:
those scenes from a movie, not my life. I'm unlikely

to rent the movies that excite him: Japanese animation,
a documentary on mountain climbing, seventies concert films
from before he was born. Hours later, at home

with my glass of bourbon, he's with me still, & I think,
out of nowhere I tell myself, about how when I was thirteen
& we lived overseas I saw middle-aged NCOS

with beer guts & sunburned scalps walking the streets
of San Angeles City, holding the hands of girls
not much older than I was, girls paid to be adoring,

who covered their mouth when they giggled
& wore strange yellow nylons the color of no human skin.
When we'd walk down those streets, my friends & I,

our raffia bags stuffed with devalued pesos,
Filipino boys would sit on their haunches & make
wet clucking noises at us. Back then I imagined the misery

of the teenaged prostitutes, though not in any detail,
& the men's daughters stateside, reading
Tiger Beat in their rooms, trying on Yardley lipstick.

Later I thought about the wives, left behind
at Lackland or Minot or Clovis, the scent
of coffee, Salems, Emeraude, & something that may

or may not have been history pushing them to the sides
of their own lives; now I think of the men -
how little of life turns out to be a choice, after all,

& the way those choices we do make
can transform beauty into pathos or desire
into commerce. We are, all of us, almost alike.

Finally, on the eleventh day, homeward is our direction.

home bound

San Antonio,


3,986 miles

11 days,
9 states,
10 counting Texas
since the distance we drove
in Texas
was equivalent
of several of the states

West Virgini
North Carolina

early this morning,
missed the turn to I-10 West,
headed down I-10 East instead,
back the way we'd come last night -
the first exit leads us onto a street of large houses
on acre lots backing up to a lake

a truism
proven several times on this trip -
the best way to learn about a city
is to get lost in it

much map waving later
and back on course,
i stop at a gas station,
convenience store,
deli, liquor store
and casino
for a bottle of Diet Pepsi
and a package of M&Ms -
easy shopping,
almost every vice
known to the human race
at one convenient location

friends from the state
speak of its beauty

i see that,
but i see the ugliness as well,

the seediness
behind the facade,
like a middle-aged beauty queen
showing the sag
of body and spirit that comes
from too many nights
closing too many bars
with too many men

i love the food
and the music of the accent,
but it is not a place i could ever live

pass Lake Charles
and over the Mississippi

twice this trip
i've crossed the Mississippi,
in Tennessee going north
and here in Louisiana going south

a beautiful broad river,
like the Grand Canyon,
a tale that lives up to its telling

across the state line
and back in Texas

the passage
of Ike
and Rita
and Katrina
still visible
in broken and fallen trees,
blue plastic tarps
over rooftops,
piles of refuse in fields
and on the sides of roads
and a travel trailer graveyard,
hundreds of travel trailers
in a field
and the storms

a stop in Beaumont
for lunch
at Rick's Cajun Cooking

D goes for the fish,
while i take a chance on the steak and sausage
two pieces of sausage and a small steak
in a bowl of rice and gravy -
first time i ever had a bowl of steak

but D's fish was very tasty,
as was the dirty rice

an hour and a half to Houston,
with an easy crosstown drive,
never slowing below 55 mph
in a city that has taken me
as much as 2 hours to get through before

a good omen for the end of our journey


Reba pees on her favorite tree,
Peanut pees on herself,
as she usually does when excited,
and cat fusses -
wants us all to go to bed
so she can sleep in my lap

The next piece is from Two Gulls, One Hawk by James Hoggard. The book, which consists of two long poems, was published in 1983 by Prickly Pear Press of Fort Worth, Texas. The second of the book's two poems is its title poem. The first is titled Tornado's Eye. The poem is broken into nine parts; I'm doing the first two parts.

Born in 1933, Hoggard was the first Poet Laureate of Texas. I can't find anything on him later than 2001, but at that time he was, and had been for many years, a professor of English at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. He acquired his Bachelors of Art degree at Southern Methodist University in 1963 and his Masters of Art degree at the University of Kansas in 1965.

Tornado's Eye

Tall brush pulled back,
the cave's mouth gaped

  mutely now I think
  as if the secrets buried
  in the Indian mound nearby
  had astonished even
  the sandstone hill.

Stooping, we crawled inside
its gullet: huge room
lifting my 12-year old eyes
so high my feet felt
they'd leave the rock-rough ground

  I was entering that
  which I didn't understand
  and through my mind
  seethed with lust
  my groin was dumb

We went farther
The sharp coolness
turned dank
as if a giant's turd
had not yet died to stone

The vast place still,
no dust slapped
grit on sweating faces
as hot winds had
in the mesquite pasture's scorch
we'd maneuvered through
to get our blown selves here

Boulders pinched the pathway
Halls led left and ahead
flashlights went on
though sunlight poured
from a hole in the roof
forty feet up. We'd gone
deeper than i'd thought

  It wasn't a journey through womb
  but a wandering into daydarkness

Until I saw the million bats
hanging from the ceiling
like brown egg cups
I thought, Here's a place where
I could learn how to mate
if one of the college girls
would join me

  Two months before
  I'd taken my girlfriend
  into a crypt back in town
  in the Catholic graveyard

  Ignoring the fecal air,
  we sat on a slab,
  talked about school,
  ate Eskimo Pies

  I was too shy to kiss her
  and the next year
  she ran off for marriage,
  the little tart,
  not even pregnant,
  just whirling with hell

Feet slipping,
we scrimmaged for balance,
palms and fingers rubbed raw
on slick, sharp rock
A spring leaked
down the shiny walls

We slopped through a puddle,
found benches in rock
and listened to the teacher
tell us how
to recognize vampires:

those large bats
threading the dome
in circular flight

  The stories were right
  the don't sleep
  when the others do,
  but they won't get close
  as long as you move

That night we hunted
for ringtail cats,
saw muskrats in a lagoon

  If i'd only brought my frog-gigger
  I could've left this bunch
  and in the morning
  caught crawdads, too
  and lazed in a tank,
  dreaming about diamondbacks' coils,
    their heads in shade:
    silhouettes of my big-toes

but that night we slept
in a plowed field
whose clods made the slow night long

The sandwich I'd brought
for breakfast was stale
and I threw it away
with the one packed for lunch

Then again we went
back in the cave,
crawled deeper than before
but all I brought back
was a bat

I kept it in a Mason jar
three days till it died
then buried it with coffee grounds
to keep the earth from turning rank
but never lost the biting taste
of day-old miracle Whip
or the stiffness in my back,
the sickness in my gut
from trying to sleep
on hard, lumpy ground
or the softness on my eyes
of the pale swell of breasts
I saw through a blouse
before I became
too worn out to care
that I in my ignorance
was making a journey

into what I still am not
even sure was self

  at the end of the breast is a bud
  the size of a berry
  and between the legs
  shrimp-scented hair

Six years before
in a damper, green place
where few winds blew,
I was tramp of the park next door

and at dusk one evening
before lightning bugs rose
I saw the neighborhood
watching a man
beat up a woman
until Bobby Boggs' father
chased the sleeveless undershirt off,
Bobby and his mother both crying
hysterical Mr. Boggs'd get knifed

  World War II was just one year past
  but something more than fighting
  was going on between those two
  They'd been necking
  before the crowd arrived -
  I'd heard her refuse
  to go with him in the john
  so he hit her
  then pushed her down
  and rode her waist

    (yippi ti yay ti yo)
  while they cussed each other,
  tried choking each other
  there in the clearing
  persimmon trees ringed

  and the horse apples looked like cannonballs

  The public john was a two-doored bunker,
  play pen for us kids
  We'd trade with the girls there
  touches on our underwear
  and laugh while we squeezed
  ripe persimmons in our hands

The next day Bobby and I and Nan

  after checking the pipes
  we kept in the creek
f  or catfish and crawdads

went under the Beckley St. bridge

As Nan pulled her shift off
Bobby told her, "One day you'll have big ones"
"and we'll all," she said, "have hair"

Laughing, Bobbie asked me,
as he rubbed her mosquito-bite nipples,
"Don't you think she'll have great big ones?"

  I couldn't tell
  Her ninners looked just like ours

Cars were passing overhead
Bobby took a crap
then Nan squatted
to show us how she peed

A watersnake slid
through the weeds near
where our footprints were

  was thinking of Henry Noble,
  the gangster-gambler who lived down the street
  Seven attempts had been made on his life
  They'd get him on the ninth

That in Trinity Heights in Oak cliff in Dallas
whose wet air turned
the bones in your legs
to sponge

  and before I returned
  to the place of my birth
  where summersun's razorblades
  sliced beneath skin
  and a cave was required
  in the mind to protect
  yourself from the blast
  of drought in your bones

Here's a piece from our friend in New Zealand, Thane Zander.

Power Failures

Yes! Your standard car versus pole
this one today lasted four hours
a double pole taken out by speeding car,
the inhabitants apparently OK, BUT!!!

They left me without power for four hours
sacrilege - did they not consider me,
did they not think twice about my PC time
if they had they would have gone the speed limit.

How did that thought crop into my mind,
yeah this one - Bush is a shining example of power failure,
him and his cronies - or does power corrupt all?
Clinton had the power to tell the country, we did not do it?

Yes that's right, Monika Lewinsky, where is she now,
all power corrupts, makes minds wander,
I wonder where they think they are when having sex,
with the wife or other, where is their mind?

Sadly they don't win, love at all costs conquers all,
love of country, love of the planet, love of the cosmos,
do they realize, yes even the car crash victims,
that supercharged power corrodes everything.

Now (as is plainly obvious) I have my internet back,
all power to me - have no fear, I'm incorruptible

My next three poems are by Demetria Martinez, from her book Breathing Between the Lines, published by The University of Arizona Press in 1997.

Martinez is an author, activist, lecturer and columnist. Her books include the widely translated novel, Mother Tongue, winner of a Western States Book Award for Fiction. Her autobiographical essays,Confessions of a Berlitz-Tape Chicana won the 2006 International Latino Book Award in the category of best biography. In addition to Breathing Between the Lines, she is also the author of The Devil's Workshop, a second book of poetry. The Mystery of Allie San Francisco, a children's book Martinez co-authored with Rosalee Montoya-Read, will be released in 2009 by the University of New Mexico Press.

Mother Tongue is based in part upon Martinez's 1988 trial for conspiracy against the United States government in connection with smuggling Salvadoran refugees into the country, a charge that with others carried a 25 -year prison sentence. A religion reporter at the time, covering the faith-based Sanctuary Movement, Martinez was found not guilty on First Amendment Grounds.

Born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1960, Martinez earned her BA from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She teaches at the annual June writing workshop at the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the Univ. of Massachusetts, Boston. Martinez writes a column for the independent progressive weekly, the National Catholic Reporter. She is involved with Enlace Comunitario, an immigrants' rights group which works with Spanish-speaking survivors of domestic violence.

We Talk About Spanish

Not in Spanish
Dream with dictionaries
Marrying out to whites
Damn good black beans
But so what?
Damn good politics
But so what?
Oh there were times
Like in the orange groves
Outside Phoenix
My task was to mark charts
To ask the Guatamaltecas
When was your last period
And so on as they lined up
At the trailer to see a doctor

and that night in Harvard Yard
A North Vietnamese
Soldier-poet tested
Spanish he learned in Cuba
It worked
We found a third way
His voice a high wire
I crossed over to him
Fearless as a spider
If we didn't know a word
We filled in the blank
with a star
It is a light
That years later
I try not to curse

Las Mananitas

      "Love, unpredictable as death" - Daisy Zamora
      "It keeps you honest. It keeps you strange." - George Evans

The hour the world daubed

my forehead with sandalwood

mariachis accompanied me
to the graveyard
for the Day of the Dead

where cottonwood leaves
shimmered like jewels
in the navels of belly dancers

imagine the day
when we have a full day

pinto beans on jasmine rice

a rooster that does not know
what time it is
and tricks the sun
into staying over

the creak of a bed
like an orchestra warming up

Only So Long

      Old Town Plaza, Albuquerque

Castiron nights of August,
women refry beans, cicadas hum like
gourds on ankles of pueblo dancers.

Shop after shop,
mud walls fluted
as wasps' nests.

red chile pods
on doorposts
like Passover blood.

Pueblo women plant turquoise
on blankets under a portal,
harvest tourist dollars.

This night, my world,
your touch: I learned
the names for so many things.

come home, I will give them all
hundreds of days have poured
through my fingers like flour.

My patience is long
as a grocery list
but life is brief

as mesquite brush.
Someday soon, I might
wrap up my wound and go.

And then there's the day after, a return to regular life.


there is pleasure
in travel
but comfort
in routine and the everyday

i'm back

second table from the rear,
by the window,
looking out on the corner
of Martin
and Soledad,
San Antonio, Texas

in the slow lane,
for a poem
in all the old familiar places

And that's the end of this week's junket. Until we meet again, remember, all of the material presented in this blog remains the property of its creators. The blog itself was produced by and is the property of me...allen itz.


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