Remember the Alamo   Friday, October 01, 2010


This week is the 150th anniversary of the battle of the Alamo here in San Antonio, a battle lost that won a republic, with skallywags, patriots, and brave and honorable men on both sides. As is usually the case - so much easier when you can line up all the bad guys in one line and the good guys in the other. John Wayne did the best he could, but even the Duke couldn't make it work out that way.

No featured artist this week and no featured poets. Just me, with some poems and some old pictures, and my library poets.

Here's the list.

Jane Hirshfield
Blue Window


Robinson Jeffers
To the Stone-Cutters
The Eye
We Are Those People
Let Them Alone

so horny the crack of dawn ain’t safe

Jack Kerouac
19th Chorus

pimple-brained nutcaked nitwitted thieving sourball licking witch-sucking lunatic political other-guys

Lorenzo Thomas
Destruction of the Seated Man

quantum effects on poetry

Gary Snyder
One Day in Late Summer
Spilling the Wind
California Laurel
Baking Bread

so special

Gregory Corso
The Mad Yak
Dream of a Baseball Star

Maxine Chernoff

familiar conversations
morning song
welcome home the warrior safe and whole
you & me

Sharan Strange
Last Supper
Words during War

labs day

Ed Orchester
On a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

Judson Mitchem
Sunday Evenings

don’t shop at lowe’s home improvement warehouse

Jim Harrison
Easter Morning

Naomi Lazard
In Answer to Your Query

flapjack ruminations

I begin this week with poems by Jane Hirshfield from a new book of her's I just picked up last week. (I said "new book" - I meant an old book that I now own for the first time. Poetry books cost too much to buy new.)

The book is Given Sugar, Given Salt, published in 2001 by HarperCollins. It is I think the third of Hirshfield's books that I own, so obviously I like her. I've used her work frequently here, including a long bio every time. This time, do your own googling.

Blue Window

In the dream, some believe, everything matters equally.

The protagonist who sits at the table
no more or less the dreamer's necessity than the table
or the small spoon she finds at rest in her left hand.

The clink of soup spoon stirred against soup bowl
no more nourishing or less nourishing that the red soup.
In the dream, the ears drink and drink -
how thirsty they must have been for that sound.

The legs of the table drink too, like lapping panthers,
four of them gathered companionably
around the legs of the woman holding the spoon,
as if a sudden, pure democracy, or a painter's peaceable kingdom.

As if the chorus reentering after the aria's close,
or a blue window opening out of a pale orange wall.

As if a durable assuaging.

As if the cell in the breast and not the breast,
of if the breast then that alone and not the woman,

though all things in the dream be equal,
not the woman
neither the one who eats and listens

nor she mercifully, these minutes longer, dreaming.


"I never knew when he would come,"
my friend said of her lover,
"though often it was late in the afternoon."

Behind her back the first plum blossoms
had started to open,
few as the stars that salt the earlier dusk.

"Finally weeks would go by, then months,"
she added, "but always I let him in.
It made me strong, you see,

"the gradual going without him
I think it taught me a kind of surrender,
though of course I hated it too."

Why he would appear or stay away
she never fathomed -
"I couldn't ask. And that also seemed only good.,"

A small bird fluttered silent behind her left shoulder,
then settled on some hidden branch
"Do you ask the weather why it comes or goes?"

She was lovely, my friend, even the gray
of her hair was lovely. A listening rope-twist
half pity, half envy tightened its length in my chest.

"When he came, you see, I could trust
that was what he wanted.
What I wanted never mattered at all."

The hands on her lap seemed quiet,
even contented.
I noticed something unspoken began to

billow and shimmer between us,
weightless as muslin,
but neither of us moved to lift it away.

My first poem for the week, random thoughts on a common theme.


saw a girl
on TV last night

a beautiful
flame-haired girl

but it was a small part
and she can’t act
and didn’t take her clothes
so i doubt i’ll ever see her

a three minute


i watched my father
when i was a kid

don’t look, he said,
it’ll burn your

i peeked anyway,
through my fingers

sometimes see


across the South Texas sky

seen from a high school
football field

1957 the year

14 years my age -
science fiction nerd
watching its arc,
blinking bright on black

“traveling companion”
the meaning of the name

and i travel with it
every night


in unexpected places

a warm and comfortable fire
blazing away lonely nights

with time for
unclear and unexpected


i wore western boots
for many

(i hesitate to say “cowboy boots”
for my cowboy days were
and long ago
and mostly had to do with
tractors anyway)

i wore them because
(let’s be honest)
a couple of extra inches
added to my natural 6-1 frame gave me
an advantage
in business/interpersonal
(let’s be honest again)
in the world of short,
is a great substitute for

the high instep
is very comfortable
and good for your arches...

...wait a minute,
that’s arches, not arcs,
a whole other
not scheduled to arrive
for three more

leaving me dangling here,
by a strained
with no place else to go,
halfway through the
arc of this poem

When I was younger, Robinson Jeffers was one of my very favorite poets, because, I think, of the wildness I sensed in his poems. Older now, I don't have the same affection for wild that I used to have (takes me longer to recover from it), so Jeffers has declined a bit on my take-to-a-deserted-island list. But he still has power.

A controversial poet, he was the son of a theology professor who taught him Greek, Latin and Hebrew as a boy. He spent three
years in Germany and Switzerland before entering the University of Western Pennsylvania when he was 15 years old. He moved to the west coast with his parents and received a B.A. from Occidental College at 18. His interest in forestry, medicine, and general science led him to continue his studies at the University of Southern California and the University of Zurich.

Here are four of his short poems, taken from Selected Poems, published by Random House a year or two, it appears after Jeffers' death in 1962 at the age of 72. The book includes poems from a number of his best known books, including Tamar and Other Poems, which was a wonder to me when I first read it many years ago, to the point that I tried, unsuccessfully, for several years to write a screenplay based on the Tamar poem.

To the Stone-Cutters

Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you foredefeated
Challengers of oblivion
Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall
the square-limbed roman letters
Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
Builds his monument mockingly;
For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth die, the
    brave sun
Die blind and blacken to the heart:
Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained
    thoughts found
The honey of peace in old poems.

The Eye

The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the
    Pacific -
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs
and eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of
    power, clash of faiths -
Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy
    headland plunging like dolphins through the blue
Into pale sea - look west at the hill of water: it is half the
    planet: this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
Australia and white Antarctica: Those are the eyelids that
    never close; this is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.

We Are Those People

I have abhorred the wars and despised the liars, laughed
    at the frightened
and forecast victory; never one moment's doubt.
But now nor far, over the backs of some crawling years,
    the next
Great war's column of dust and fire writhers
Up the sides of the sky: it becomes clear that we too
    may suffer
What others have, the brutal horror of defeat -
Or if not in the next, then in the next - therefore watch
And read the future. We wish of course, that our women
Would die like biting rats in the cellars, our men like
    wolves on the mountain:
It will not be so. Our men will curse, cringe, obey;
Our woman uncover themselves to the grinning victors
    for bits of chocolate.

Let Them Alone

If God has been good enough to give you a poet
Then listen to him. But for God's sake let him alone un-
    til he is dead; no prizes, no ceremony,
They kill the man. A poet is one who listens
To nature and his own heart: and if the noise of the
    world grows up around him, and if he is tough
He can shake off his enemies but not his friends.
That is what withered Wordsworth and muffled Tenny
    son, and would have killed Keats; that is what
Hemingway play the fool and Faulkner forget his art.

I ran across this line in a book i'm reading, Bad Blood by John Sandford. It's the third in his Virgil Flowers series, which he started after getting bored with his first Lucas Davenport series. After many books, he just got worn out with his character, as did I, so I was very pleased when he came up with this new Flowers character, a kind of modern cowboy cop. There's a lot more humor, and great lines, in this new series than there was in the first.

Anyway, I needed a Saturday poem and this is where I ended up.

so horny the crack of dawn ain't safe

that’s a line
from a book i’m reading,
of the benefit that accrues
to those of us who avoid high-
class literature

cause, for sure,
you won’t find that line
in Shelley or Keats,
nor in Longfellow, Tennyson, or Donne -

Twain, maybe
but only in one of those books
he wouldn’t publish
until after his death or 1962,
which ever came first -

probably - imagine the line
as read by Olivier or Burton -
if he had thought of it
and if he would read it now,
he’d probably say,
darn, why didn’t i think of that -

and the ancient roman poets,
for sure - those guys were always
hornied-up in their baths - we just
haven’t dug the lines out of the ruins yet -

and Li Po, certainly,
if he’d looked up from the bubbles
of his beer long enough to think of it,
in fact there’s a rumor, that he did,
the night he drowned
after toasting the reflection of the moon
in the lake, he just never had a chance
to write it down


i never had time for the classics, spent
my reading time with pirates
and sword fights and cannon balls
blowing off heads,
and cowboys and gunslingers,
fast-draws at high noon,
and space adventures in far-away
galaxies and shapely green
from the planet Holy Cow!!,
and hard-boiled dicks
and their molls built like...
well, built pretty darn good

and lets face it, i read Silas Marner
and Tess of the d'Rubbervilles
and all that and
they were pretty good, but
not nearly as much fun as blond-haired
molls built like...well, you know

because, as everyone knows
i’ve been fifteen years old
since the year i was fifteen years old
and have no desire, all these years later,
to turn sixteen and get serious

Next I have a poem by Jack Kerouac. The poem is from his bookMexico City Blues (242 Choruses), published in 1959 by Grove Press.

Most of the time I think Kerouac is full of crap. Sometimes, like today, when I'm in the right mood, I think he's great.

19th Chorus

Christ had a dove on his shoulder
 -My bother Gerard
  Had 2 Doves
  And 2 Lambs
  Pulling his Milky Chariot.

Immersed in fragrant old
    spittoon water
He was Baptized by Iron
    Priest Saint Jacques
De Forunier in Lowell
In the Gray Rain Year
When Chaplin had Spats
    and Dempsey
Drank no whisky by the track.

My mother saw him in heaven
Riding away, prophesying
Everything will be alright
Which I have learned now
By Trial & Conviction
In the Court of Awful Glots

It was Sunday Morning. I was bored, thinking about politics and not wanting to write about it. Avoided politics a little by referring to the "other guys," being, for everyone, the guys who aren't "your guys" and no particular guys otherwise.

pimple-brained nutcaked nitwitted thieving sourball licking witch-sucking lunatic political other-guys


the blue open sky
the trees
the gentle falling leaves
the sparrows hip-hopping
branch to branch
the church-clotherd-clot-herd folk
walking bible-in-hand
children skip skipping
to sunday school
now i sit me
down to eat
and if i choke
before i swallow
hemlich-me quick
and don’t you tarry
cause i’d rather walk
then be carried on a stretcher
on this autumn bright autumn sunday
morn in the southern provinces
of you esse

but politics swallows my brain today
and trying to walk
lightly slightly brightly
around the subject because
i hate political poison poems and
i know if i get to talking about all those

i'll never stop



i say to myself
it is a beautiful open-sky
that shouldn’t be spoiled
by such thinking-about
as politi-chips
and unsalted pretzel brains

look to the sky
to the birds
to the trees and the leaves
drop dropping
to the ground of many colors

it is sunday

let us
on happy happy-
and be joyful
to the sun and the mountains
and rivers and hills and
streams -

all legal
and tax deductible
in London
and surrounding en
from sherwood flats
to sherwood meadows
to sherwood forest
where the king’s deer
now roam safe

hark! hark!

it i said

My next poem is by Lorenzo Thomas, from his book Dancing on Main Street, published by Coffee House Press in 2004.

Thomas was born in Panama and grew up in New York City. He is a poet, critic, and professor of English at the University of Houston - Downtown.

Destruction of the Seated Man

    - AFTER DE KOONING'S Seated Man
     CA. 1938, NOW DESTROYED


bloodless hands glowing
staring at each other's emptiness
postured as if expecting
something to hold
wistful apprehension
the lines of the face
could be disbelief fascination?
suspended fear maybe anxiety
of impending whirlwinds
the boiling shadows
eat at the flesh
and shining hands too weak
to grasp eternity
wait for it to fall into their
upturned palms.


perhaps those eyes are
watching some color splashed smeared
abstraction of the Landing
or the silent cool night-beauty -
sky lit with a distant neon rainbow
watching the vermilion montage of morning
rape the trembling nightness


the penetrating darts
through the shoulders
later tore off the shadow-bitten
head sent it spinning through the
electrified landscapes of Death
the man still sat in the bright vacantness
some of us can make our world
blackwhite and sit headless with waiting hands


Monday is a terrible day for writing poetry. Don't know why, but it is, worse this Monday, because I had to leave early and couldn't stick around to eavesdrop on the Religiosos Babosos.

quantum effects on poetry

dark outside

lights inside
reflected back inside
by the windows

i watch
myself chew -
the reflection or myself
because the dark is outside
and the light is inside
turning the windows into

one biscuit in the mirror,
gravy on the side
& coffee, lots
of coffee
which i do not
because i don’t chew
coffee and because
watching myself
puts me off chewing
all together

i watch myself
write a poem, or
more correctly, i
watch myself
for the first line
i will watch myself
when i find the line
that will lead to a poem
i will watch myself write

all this has to happen
before the sun
comes up, changing
the window from a mirror
to a window looking out
instead in so that
i would have to go
to watch myself write
a poem
and since that is
it not being possible
to be in two places
at once, except
maybe not, since
testing quantum theory
have in fact placed
the same molecule
in two places at once
but only for a couple
of seconds which is
not enough time for me
to write a poem though
it would give me enough
time to watch me
write a poem if i could
write a poem in just
a couple of seconds

this makes my
head hurt

i think the answer is
i just need to write a poem
before the sun
comes up and messes

Here are a couple of poems by Gary Snyder, from his book Danger on Peaks a 2004 National Books Critics Circle Award Finalist published by Shoemaker-Hoard Publishers.

Snyder, winner of the Pulitzerr Prize in 1975 and two-time National Book Award finalist, is the author of sixteen collections of poetry and prose. Since 1970 he has lived in the watershed of the South Yuba River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

These poems are of a certain form which I can't think of the name of right now - a prosey introduction, followed by a brief verse.

One Day in Late Summer

One day in late summer in the early nineties I had lunch with my
old friend Jack Hogan, ex-longshore union worker and activist of
San Franciso, at a restaurant in my small Sierra town. The owner
had recently bought and torn down the adjoining brick building
which had been in its time a second-hand bookstore, "3Rs," run by
a puckish ex-professor. Out lunch table in the patio was right where
his counter had been. Jack was married to my sister once. We all
hung out in North Beach back in the fifties, but now he lives in

the present moment
     that lives on

to become

long ago

Spilling the Wind

The faraway line of the freeway faint murmur of motors, the slow
steady semis and darting little cars:; two thin steel towers with faint
lights high up blinking; and we turn on a raised dirt road between
two flooded fallow ricefields - wind brings more roar of cars

hundreds of white-fronted geese
from nowhere
spill the wind from their wings
wobbling ande sideslipping down

          (Lost Slough, Cosumnes, February 2002)

California Laurel

The botanist told us
"Over by Davis Lumber, between house furnishings and plumbing,
there's a Grecian laurel growing - not much smell, but that's the one
the poets wore. Now California laurel's not a laurel. It can drive off
bugs or season a sauce, and it really clears your sinus if you take
way deep breath -"

Crushed leaves, the smell
reminds me of Annie - by the Big Sur river
she camped under laurel trees - all one summer
eating brown rice - naked - doing yoga -
her chanting, her way deep breath.

Baking Bread

Warm sun of a farmyard    a huge old chestnut tree    just yesterday
the woman said    been raided by wild rhesus monkeys
we had boar meat, inoshishi, stewed with chestnuts     for lunch.
Deer, boar, monkeys, foxes   in these mountains
and lots of dams    little trucks on narrow winding roads

Four hours from Tokyo
brightly colored work clothes
living on abandoned farms
fighting concrete dams
"I am hippy" says this woman
baking bread

          (early October 2000 in the headwaters
     of the Mibu River,Southern Japan Alps)

Next, I have a doodle of a poem I wrote last Tuesday morning. It was 6:30 in the morning at my breakfast haunt. I had finished my breakfast and it was time to write my poem for the day. But I had nothing, just started doodling around, remembered a joke
I had made about begin special and went from there.

so special

the problem
with being special

in a world
where no one else is

is that no one, all being
unspecial, ever knows how

very special you are -
so instead of being

a sighted man
in a world of the unsighted

you are a blind man
in a deaf world

shouting blindly into the wind
to people who, never hearing you,

think you must be some kind
of a poot,

standing out in the cold wind
like that

wagging your mouth all
about ,

making it easy to understand
why mental hospitals

are full
of special people,

which is why i don’t want to be

cause my insurance doesn’t
cover that

it being not very special

which makes me very
unspecially glad

you are reading my very
unspecial poem

on this very unspecial morning
of an unspecial Tuesday

in this unspecial month of

in the very unspecial year
of 2010 -

and having read the poem
in its unspecial entirity,

prepared, no doubt, to affirm
my unspeciality

Here are two poets from the Norton Anthology, Postmodern American Poetry, published by W.W. Norton in 1994.

The first of the poets is Gregory Corso.

Born in 1930 on Bleeker Street in Manhattan, Coroso's mother died when he was a child and his father returned to his native Italy, leaving him left him to the care of an orphanage and four foster homes. His father returned and took custody of him when he was twelve, but he ran away, ending up in a New York prison for stealing a boy's radio in a boys' home. At thirteen, he spent time in the children's ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital. Later, at the age off seventeen he was back in prison for theft. It was there he developed a love of great literature and began writing his own poetry.

Although he had only a sixth grade education, his poetry brought him to the attention of Allen Ginsberg who took him under his wind. In 1954, he went to Cambridge, Massachusetts at the urging of Harvard and Radcliffe students who gather the money for publishing his first book of poetry. He became an important element of the beat movement, until his death in 2001.

The Mad Yak

I was watching them churn the last milk
    they'll ever get from me.
They are waiting for me to die;
They want to make buttons out of my bones.
Where are my sisters and brothers?
The tall monk there, loading my uncle,
    he has a new cap.
And that idiot student of his -
    I never saw that muffler before.
Poor uncle, he lets them load him.
How sad he is. How tired!
I wonder what they'll do with his bones?
And that beautiful tail!
How many shoelaces will they make of that!


Dream of a Baseball Star

I dreamed Ted Williams
leaning at night
against the EiffelTower, weeping.

He was in uniform
and his bat lay at his feet
- knotted and twiggy.

"Randall Jarrell says you're a poet!" I cried.
"So do I! I say you're a poet!"

He picked up his bat with blown hands;
stood there astraddle as he would in the batter's box,
and laughed! fling his schoolboy wrath
toward some invisible pitcher's mound
- waiting the pitch all the way from heaven.

It came; hundreds came! all afire!
He swung and swung and swung and connected not once
sinker curve hook or right-down- the-middle.
A hundred strikes!
The umpire dressed in strange attire
thundered his judgement: YOU'RE OUT!
and the phantom crowd's horrific boo
dispersed the gargoyles from Notre Dame.

And I screamed in my dream:
God! throw thy merciful pitch!
Herald the crack of bats!
Hooray the sharp liner to left!
Yea the double, the triple!
Hosannah the home run!

My second poet from the anthology is Maxine Chernoff

Born in 1952 and raised in Chicago, at the time of this publication Chernoff had published five books of poetry.


If I were French, I'd write
about breasts, structuralist treatments
of breasts, deconstructionist breasts.
Gertrude Stein's breasts in Pere-Lachaise
under stately marble. Film noire breasts
no larger than olives, Edith Piaf's breasts
shadowed under a song, mad breasts raving
in the bird market on Sunday.
Tanguy breasts softening the landscape,
the politics of nipples (we're all equal),
A friend remembers nursing,
his twin a menacing blur. But wait,
we're in American, where breasts
were pointy until 1968. I once invented
a Busby Berkeley musical with naked women
underwater sitting at a counter
where David Bowie soda-jerked them
ice cream glaciers. It sounds so sexual
but had a Platonic air brushed air.
Beckettt calls them dugs, which makes me think
of potatoes, but who calls breasts potatoes?
Bolshoi dancers strap down their breasts
while practicing at the bar.
You guess they're thinking of sailing,
but probably it's bread dinner,
and the Igor Zlotick Show (their
Phil Donahue). There's a photo of me
getting dressed where I'm surprised
by Paul and try to hide my beasts, and another
this year, posed on pier, with my breasts
reflected in silver sunglasses. I blame
it on summer when flowers overcome gardens
and breasts point at the stars. Cats
have eight of them, and Colette tells
of a cat nursing its young while
being nursed by its mother. Imagine the scene
rendered human. and then there's the Russian
story about the woman...but wait,
they've turned the lights down, and Humphrey
Bogart is staring at lauren Becall's beasts
as if they might start speaking.

Next, I have several of my very old poems and two of my not-so-old efforts. The very old poems were written either in 1968 while I was in the military serving in what was then known as Pakistan's Northwest Frontier or in 1969, shortly after I returned to the states. The not-so-old poems are a kind of tribute to the soldiers fighting in the current wars nearby to where I was, forty years past, as well as a challenge to those of us (that is all of us) who allowed them to be sent there in the first place.

I can't look at my old stuff without seeing all the things I could do better, so these very old poems are kinda like they were when originally written, but not exactly.

familiar conversations

graze their sheep
in the afternoon sun,

in the village
men visit an open-air
barber shop.

as their hair and beards
are trimmed,
they rest between mud walls
in the generous shade
of a large banyan tree, as
a millineum past,
Alexander might have rested
at this very

the indistinct murmur
of low voices
is a whisper in the sun-baked
off the dusty street

the familiar conversation
of men and their barbers drifts
through the village on the weak
desert breeze

Published in "Hawkwind" in 2001)

morning song

early morning
in a place far away,

along the path
twisting along the red brick wall
that separates our oasis
from the desert all around,

at the point in the path
to the sentry camp outside,
the men of the camp begin
awaken and stir.

a soldier begins to sing
a plaintive morning song
strange to my ears,
but soul-stretching, and
so in accord with the morning
as to seem a natural
part of the sun's rising.

another man joined in with a flute,
and it's high clear whistle
and the deep-soldier-voiced singing
pierced the early hour,
reaching the cool morning air
all the way to the mountains, hazy
in the distance, all that, just as
it breached those red brick walls
to move me.

Published in "Hawkwind" in 2002


with a long and gentle stick
the shepherd guides his flock to the pasture
set aside for this seasons scant sustenance

wooly-bearded and stringy
like his sheep,
he talks to them
in the quiet language
they share


he puts the flock to graze
and rests himself
in the meager shade
of a sun-stunted

in the distance
black and barren mountains
rise and fall
in the sandy heat-haze
of the intervening desert


Published in "The Horsethief's Journal" in 2002

The next two poems were among the six or so I had included in the Poets Against the War website in 2004 - along, probably, with maybe a million more poems by others.

welcome home the warrior safe and whole

let us not think today of those who remain,
but celebrate instead only you, home now,
safe for a while from the lying old men
who sent you away, the craven old men
who passed their own war in hiding.,
saving all their bellicosity for a day
when risk would be born by others

oh, safe now in their paneled office,
how they glory in sending others to die,
no hiding now for them,
but photo ops far from the line of fire,
in the garb of warriors
on the deck of a warrior vessel,
watch them preen, thieves that they are,
stealing honor from the blood
of better men and women
than in their grandest dreams
they could ever be

but you are not them

you went with honor and with honor you now return,
far away from the sand and
searing desert heat,
far away from the lurking death beside each road,
around each corner, behind each wall,
behind, you have to fear, each smiling face

through the random grace of whatever gods
look out for warriors and their families,
you are home,
home to friends and worried kin,
to wife and dancing daughters
(grown so in the months you were gone),
home to gentle hills and dew-drenched pastures,
home to the cleansing rains of October,
to the cool nights and shifting colors of early autumn,
home to your wife's warm bed
and the arms of all who waited for your return

for you & me


on dry desert dust

in steamy jungle rot

on busy city streets

in green country fair















My next two poems are by Sharan Strange, from her book, Ash, published in 2001 by Beacon Press.

Strange grew up on South Carolina, was educated at Harvard College, and received her M.F.A. from Sarah Lawrence College. She is contributing and advisor editor of Callaloo and cofounder of the Dark Room Collective. Her poems have appeared in many journals and in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York and the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Last Supper

I've seen hogs herded for slaughter.
Penned on the truck, they whine like saws
biting into reluctant trees. Exiting,
their last exercise is a wild dance
skirting madness, a graceless capitulation.

I witnessed Herman -
who learned his name, ate from my hand -
and his holy-eyed terror said more to me
than any apostle's text. Poor swine,
surrogate Christ, you got no redemption
though you left this world your blood and body.

"You don't eat meat? No wonder you're so thin!"
But will gauntness save me, make me
thin enough to slip the knife, noose,
shackles, or the needle's eye?
Could any of us escape the legacy
of Christ's body offered up to save us,
the legacy of bloodshed that continues
in the name of God and State?

A Village Voice reporter tallies
"Final Meals Requested by Inmates
Executed in Texas: Steak was the entree
most frequently asked T-bones
and one smothered. Hamburgers and
cheeseburgers were next at six."

On death row, flesh is the redeemer,
a final consolation. The industry
of slaughter feeding dead men - reluctant
sacrificial calves, marked, their fate
decided nearly from birth. With T-bones
they get the cross, though it's beheaded.
They get the apportioned body,
a sanctioned measure of salvation.

Words during War

        January 1991

The landlady's low hum of Spanish
prayer mixes with the sound
of eastbound planes overhead. She
lights candles for the people there
who are under siege, who will get
no food, no water, and cannot,
without the bomb's flash, see
a loved one's face. I glimpse
her family now and then, hear
their cadenced voices, the heavy thumping
of their steps. I'm taunted by
the spicy smell of rice and beans
simmering in her kitchen below me. The walls
chatter, breathe salsa, their heartbeat
insistent as my own. The house
we live in, partitioned, some country
with parts seceded, a body
amputated. Blood, flesh, bone,
skin - warm boundaries holding us -
and words, educing us always
to language, destiny, intention.

When the rhythms I move to
are disrupted by hourly reports
from teh battlefront, I let
the barrage explode around me, grasp
at meanings that linger like artillery's
smoke trails or the dust cloud shadows
of fleeing refugees. Downstairs,
stillness descends like fallout. Outside,
underground darkness, the electric
tremors of people passing.
I feel the gentle thumming silence
of our house this evening. I think
of those others in the desert, their speech
a code unbroken, their vigilance and
combat breathing, the twisted, glowing wreckage
of their land like a loveless machine.

I have labs done every three months to make sure all the stuff I take isn't killing me, followed a week later with a visit to the doctor who looks at lab results and tells me about all the stuff I like I have to quit doing.

labs day

labs day

every three months
when they pull out some blood
and give it a lookie-look,
just to make sure nothing’s slipped
and i’m still a good-ol’ red-blooded
all-american boy

(so far so good)

for the first time
beat all the old bleeders
that get up in the morning
with the crickets, forgetting
for a minute that i am them
too, as proven by my being here
before them, earlier crickets,
my only advantage
i suppose

so first in line &
only had to wait
a half hour

plit - in goes the needle
and suck goes the blood

and i’m done,
just like that, blood-let
and ready for breakfast

two hours late

ready for coffee

late, too, more
than two hours since
anytime later
than three minutes
after feet hit the floor
for the first-morning-time
a lifetime-equivalent

coffee to blood ratio
back to levels approved
by god’s angel from the mountain,
mr. valdez,
and his burro,
i’m ready for breakfast

a full-order of eggs benedict
instead of my normal
for absence,
or two-hour-lateness,
does, indeed, make the
heart, and stomach, grow
and i scarf it all down
like a pig at his trough
and feel lousy, for,
though the soul’s anticipation
of the next meal grows in size if denied
the stomach
does not and i am stuffed
and in serious danger
of returning my eggs benedict -
canadian bacon, eggs, english muffin
and hollandaise sauce and all -
to sender but persevered, or, at least,
as chief dan george said
in “the outlaw josey wales,”
i endeavored to persevere,
which i did, both
and persevered, but still feeling
like maybe i ought to go see a doc
and get me a dose of something

Now I have two more poets from another anthology, The Devins Award Poetry Anthology, published by the University of Missouri Press in 1998.

The first poet is Ed Ochester.

Born in 1939 in Brooklyn, New York, Orchester was educated at Cornell University, Harvard University, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Currently he is a core faculty member of the Bennington College MFA Writing Seminars. For nearly twenty years he served as director of the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh. From 1967 to 1970 he was assistant professor of English at University of Florida, Gainesville.

He was twice elected president of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs.

On a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

At school you dove off the bridge at night
in a swan, down to the half-dozen girls
treading water to keep up with you.
Then, cock of the walk, you'd strut off
with some chick while the rest of us
were left to drink lukewarm beer and cluck..

Those were the Dylan Thomas days when
wearing baggy tweeds you picked up west of Wales
you told Under Mild Wood so that all the dead below
were wet with tears. Then
you'd cut out with a casual girl
and leave us to dismantle the scene.

There were also the Norman Mailer days,
the quiet admonitions to suck the smoke in deep,
the blue morning jogs around the lake.
You were the last descendant of the
        Grand DukeMaximilian,
and every one of us was the true illegitimate
son of Hemingway, who
by the way
was your very close friend.

You made yourself the prince of days
because you cracked imagination's cipher;
you taught us to ignore the telegrams
from the past that never came,
found at the heart of or onion
the nothing you'd been sure was there.
So. Our banquets and our pioneer characters
were spun from the brightness of the air.

Christ, while the rest of us thought each thud
of our typewriters was tough enough
        to puncture hearts,
you heard America snapping its gum
and laughed and fluted tunes
through the public forests
on the coast of pacific despair.

Thus, seeing a one-inch notice of your death
in a small-town Midwest paper,
it is difficult to say exactly what death
        has taken in,
except assuredly a politician among the apes,
a hummingbird above the snails.

But the rest of us -
Lord, vaguely amazed at your death,
corrupt as you but less successful,
still losing twenty dreams a year
        like irreplaceable feathers -
the rest of us at least two thousand miles
        behind you
are still crawling outward toward
        our mythical west coast.

My second poet from the anthology is Judson Mitchem.

Mitcham was born in Georgia, where he grew up and where much of his work is centered. He was not formally trained as a writer. Instead he studied psychology at the University of Georgia, where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees. He received his Ph.D. in 1974. He is recently retired from Fort Valley State University, where he taught psychology for many years. He has also served as adjunct professor of creative writing at the University of Georgia and at Emory University, where he has directed the Summer Writers' Institute and currently teaches fiction.

Sunday Evenings

Sunday mornings seemed wrong for the soul,
so fragrant and perfect were the worshippers,
like a garden club arrangement of rare bulbs.
What I wanted was a field at dusk,
with dandelions leaning in the breeze.

In the evening there were always those
grown wildly alone. When Raymond
turned slowly into the aisle, leaned
doubled on his cane, unable to go on;

when Billy Reed's mother,
a sad, bent woman
who had gone so far into silence, sang,

then the world's true music touched outs,
all the windows of the old church open in June
to the mournful barks, fast whispers of tires.

Now, another old poem, this one I wrote in 2000 or 2001, just a couple of years after I returned to writing and still suffering a bit from occasional excess.

The poem was brought to mind by the Alamo thing and by an all too frequent occurrence yesterday of passing a commercial strip center where, three months ago, there had been an open pasture surrounded by oaks. A few oaks remained, but mostly it was just a hole in the ground.

The poem itself was written in response to just such a travesty, a high hill with a view past the wooded approach to downtown (old San Antonio is still a city of trees), past the tall buildings downtown, and on to the beginning of the coastal plains to the south, bull-dozed and plowed to become mostly parking lot to serve a new Lowe's built right on the crest of the hill.

My record keeping has gone to hell over the past couple of years, so, though i know the poem was published somewhere, I don't know where..

don't shop at lowe's home improvement warehouse

high meadow,
gently-sloped hill
with grass
& wildflowers
and at the very top
oak trees -
the largest
as wide around
as two long-armed men
could stretch

an old tree
when the mission
in the valley below
fell to the army
of the mexican general,
santa ana,
bloody cries
of patriots on both sides
drifting in the wind
with the smoke
of musket
and cannon fire

only a sapling
when golden galleons sunk
in salty gulf waters
to the east,
sailors dying
on hot island sand,
killed by the cannibal
killed by summer storms
sweeping across tidal bays
pushed inland to
drop rain
to feed the grass
and wildflowers
on this hill, rain
to make the sapling

a seedling still
when comanches
roamed the hills around
and white men
first claimed
for god and king
the green shores
and deep jungle empires south,
the first long
of death over the old life
of earth and sky and spirits,
fates shifted,
changes foreseen
by only the wisest of wise old men
who might have sat on this hill
and smelled the stench
of death approaching

the same stench now,
no soft grass to sit on,
no tree, shade
five centuries grown
scars in the earth
where old roots
were pulled from the ground,
paved over,
with the wildflowers

covered in asphalt -
a graveyard
so that we might park

Next I have a poem I love. It's from Garrison Keillor's anthology Good Poems for Hard Times, published by Penguin Books, and written by Jim Harrison.

Harrison was born in 1937, the son of a county ag agent. He has written eleven books of poetry and seven novels.

As someone who spent more than 30 years working with workers and other poor people, I love what he has to say in this poem.

Easter Morning

On Easter morning all over America
the peasants are frying potatoes in bacon grease.

We're not supposed to have "peasants"
but there are tens of millions of them
frying potatoes on Easter morning,
cheap and delicious with catsup.

If Jesus were here this morning he might
be eating fried potatoes with my friend
who has a '51 dodge and a '72 Pontiac.

When his kids ask why they don't have
a new car he says, "these cars were new once
and now they are experienced."

He can fix anything and when rich folks
call to get a toilet repaired he pauses
extra house so that they can further
learn what we're made of.

I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there's lightning the rich
think God is taking their picture.
He laughed.

Like peasants everywhere in the history
of the world ours can't figure out why
they're getting poorer. Their sons join
the army to get work being shot at.

Your ideals are invisible clouds
so try not to suffocate the poor,
the peasants, with your sympathies.
They know that you're staring at them.

I liked that one so much, here's another from Keillor's anthology.

This one is by Naomi Lazard. Lazard is a playwright and cofounder of the Hamptons International Film Festival. She started writing poetry at 25, in a workshop at the University of chicago after studying graphic design at the Institute of Design. She's published books of her poems and of her translations.

In Answer to Your Query

We are sorry to inform you
the item you ordered
is no longer being produced.
It has not gone out of style
nor have people lost interest in it.
In fact, it has become
one of our most desired products.
Its popularity is still growing.
Orders for it come in
at an ever increasing rate.
However, a top-level decision
has caused this product
to be discontinued forever.

Instead of the item you ordered
we are sending you something else.
It is not the same thing,
n or is it a reasonable facsimile.
It is what we have in stock,
the very best we can offer.

If you are not happy
with this substitution
let us know as soon as possible.
        As you can imagine
we already have quite an accumulation
of letters such as the one
you may or may not write.
To be totally fair
we respond to these complaints
as they come in.
Yours will be filed accordingly,
answered in its turn.

Now, time for my last poem of the week.

flapjack ruminations

the fella
right down from me,

the baldheaded fella
with the handlebar mustache,

is having a flapjack,
normally i would say he’s having

a pancake, but men
with handlebar mustaches

(women, too, i guess)
don’t have pancakes, they


i had a handlebar mustache
long ago

and i can tell you it’s just the way of the

reminding me of the movie

when the super-tough
hero, machete,

an elemental man
whose bells and whistles

do not include eletronica,

to the sexy chica's invitation, says
“machete don’t text” -

neither do superman, batman,
aquaman and the flash,

but spiderman,
he might

little arachnomorphoid...

having nothing to do
with the kid at the table

right over from me, eating
one of the restaurants famous

hugemongous pancakes

(not a whisper of whisker yet
on the kid

so certainly no handlebar

so no flapjacks for him today)

his mother bet him $2 he couldn’t
eat the whole thing

and from the size of his father
it’s clear

his mother
must keep a lot of $2 bills

around the house
to pay off bets like that one...

it seems from the conversation
that the family, mother, father, son,

are in the city to day to watch their
older son

graduate from basic training
at Lackland Air Force Base

a ritual i completed
nearly 45 years ago, on a

cold, cold early january morning
in 1966,

a few days into the new year and
a bare month before my 22nd birthday


i had neither handlebar mustache
nor hair

at the time,
but made up for it later

That enough for this week. Great weather out, upper seventies under a clear blue sky. I'm gonna go out and get me some of it.

Here's the regular stuff - all material presented in this blog remains the property of it's creators. My stuff is available to any who want it, the only condition being proper credit to "Here and Now" and me.

I'm allen itz, owner and producer of this blog, and i'm strongly in favor of autumn.


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