Thursday, September 29, 2005

Monet Refuses The Operation

I have an elderly Cambodian patient with severe cataracts, who is nearly blind now because of them. The ophthalmologist diagnosed her cataracts over 12 years ago, but she has steadfastly refused to have surgery to correct them. She says she can still thread a needle to do her sewing, so why does she need an operation? As I was once again trying to let go of my agenda, about what I thought she needed to do, I was reminded of this wonderful poem by Lisel Mueller, recalling Monet and his cataracts.

Monet Refuses The Operation

Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolves
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and change our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

From Second Language,
Published by Louisiana State University Press
© 1986 Lisel Mueller

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Which Pagan God or Goddess are you most like?

From AJ:

You scored as Freyr.





























Which Pagan God or Goddess are you most like?
created with

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Terrific reading at Elliot Bay this afternoon. Rebecca Loudon read from Tarantella and from new poems from her forthcoming Radish King, and was awesome (as usual), especially her final poem "Love Letter to the Whores on Aurora Avenue" (which some of you may have seen as a draft on her blog). The audience was utterly riveted: there was a few seconds of tense silence as she finished, and then a loud round of applause.

John Burgess read from his new book, Punk Poems. There was a lot to like in his reading, from fractured sonnets to haiku-like poems about Mt. Fuji, to more Beat-like performance poetry. Here's a sample:

Punk Poems: 11
— Dale Evans 1914-2001

What was it like riding Roy Rogers —
Did you dig his thighs with your spurs
As you galloped into Hollywood sunsets —
Whip his ass when he reared up
Down on all fours — cinch the saddle
A little tighter to let him know
Who was on top — did you bridle desires —
Harness hope — rope him in so he wouldn't
Buck you — one hand on the reins
The other circling a lasso?

from 17 Views of Mount Fuji

(Didn't climb Mount Fuji)
Sometimes it's better
To imagine you did —
Desire lasts longer
Than pictures
& postcards —
Keeps things
You want the most
Exactly the way
You want them.


Puzzlemaster (I *Heart* Will Shortz)

Begin with the phrase I love you.
Subtract those letters from the alphabet
and from the remaining letters compose
a sentence that describes your deepest,
darkest, obsession. From the first letter
of each word, spell a new word
that describes the thing you most fear.
Now add back the letters from I love you,
to create a new word or phrase.
What does it tell you?

Send your answer to Will Shortz, c/o Weekend Edition, Sunday Puzzle, National Public Radio. The winner will not get to play puzzle on the air with host Liane Hansen and the puzzle editor of The New York Times and Weekend Edition's puzzle master Will Shortz. The winner will also not receive: a Weekend Edition lapel pin; the 11th Edition Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary and Thesaurus; Scrabble Deluxe Edition from Parker Brothers; Puzzle Master Presents from Random House, volume 2; and The New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzles, volume 29, from St. Martin's Press. (Total estimated retail value $90)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Twelve Days of Autumn

On the twelfth day of Autumn my true love gave to me:

Twelve corn kernels
Eleven rotten romas
Ten feet of hose
A nine-inch zucchini
Eight empty peat pots
Seven shrieking starlings
Six frisky squirrels
Five rusted hinges
Four piles of dead leaves
Three wormy apples
Two dead roses
And a pear that was fallen from the tree.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Twenty-Three Five

From Octopus' Garden:

1. Go into your archive.
2. Find your 23rd post (or closest to).
3. Find the fifth sentence (or closest to).
4. Post the text of the sentence in your blog along with these instructions.

"Covered with new snow and seeming so close that I could almost reach out and touch them."

Kind of disappointing for a sentence. In fact it's a frag. But what can I say?

Here's perhaps a more interesting one from post 22:
"Usted tiene que encontrar una copia de la quinto sinfonía de Mahler."

Or from post 24:
"Our elderly neighbor feels spry enough/to climb a ladder and wash her windows/(we rush over to help!) while her grandson/wheels out his motorbike for ride."

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

We can't say we weren't warned

Think of this as Rita approaches:

"In the week before Hurricane Katrina struck, the U.S. government was busy insisting on the deletion of a simple phrase from the general principles of the United Nations -- "Respect for Nature." History may now look on Katrina as the perfect storm that ended, once and for all, such anthropocentric arrogance."

. . . for full article click here.
What do TEETERTOTTERER and POWERTRIPPER have in common?

. . . click here to find out.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

And you said you were afraid you’d raised your children to be lazy but you couldn’t help it you wanted what was best for them.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

"Sharing a Spanish Lover with You"

I had a wonderful lunch at Julia's with my friend Kathleen yesterday. We talked for over three hours about everything: writing, politics, kids, our husbands, publishing, housekeeping — and just laughed and laughed. I had been to the Twice Told Tales used book store on the way there, and had picked up a copy of the memoir Digressions on Some Poems by Frank O'Hara, written by his lover, Joe LeSueur, and we talked a bit about how interesting it is to read about the lives of poets, and how it puts the poems into new and interesting contexts, and how the life is sometimes just as important as the writing.

Then, on the way home, I think Frank O. channeled me a poem! It's long, very different than what I usually write, a little breathless and manic, and came in one fell swoop. The title at present is "Sharing a Spanish Lover with You" (a sort of nod to his poem "Having a Coke with You.") I have no idea of this poem is any good, but it has me feeling both exhilerated and exhausted.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved

I have been reading Greg Orr's new book, Concerning the Book That Is the Body of the Beloved. I am totally blown away by this. It is a 197-page long poem sequence in five parts, that revolves around the idea of the "Beloved" as a kind of "Book" that is also the "World." It is breathtaking, and simple at the same time. Almost as if it were written by the love child of Walt Whitman (think the bold expansiveness of Leaves of Grass) and Li Po (think of the intricate minimal-ness of the most perfect poems of the Tang dynasty).

Here is a tiny sample:

"Who wants to lose the world,
For all its tumult and suffering?
Who wants to leave the world,
For all its sorrow?
Not I.
And so I come to the Book,
Which is also the body
Of the beloved."

pg 10

"To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That's crudely put, but . . .

If we're not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?"

pg 74

It is hard to excerpt this long and fascinating poem. It builds by accumulation and repetition of the themes. You can open it anywhere, and reap richly. You can read it forwards, backwards, every other page, and it is still the same book. Which I think is a quite a feat. And for anyone who knows what a loss is the loss of a beloved, this book provides succor and sustenance.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The 7 Meme

Got this one from our own C Dale:

Seven Things I Want To Do Before I Die:

1. Greece
2. Portugal
3. Hong Kong
4. write a play
5. buy another home
6. retire
7. go to Venice again

Seven Things I Can Do:

1. take care of disadvantaged chronically ill elderly medical patients
2. who don't speak English, can't read or write,
3. have limited access to resources --
4. (and I really enjoy it!)
5. cook an amazing wild mushroom rissoto
6. find my way around a city even if I have never been there
7. dream in color

Seven Things I Cannot Do:

1. swim
2. whistle
3. sew
4. let somebody else drive
5. speak a foreign language
6. have a baby
7. have a pet

Seven Things That Attract Me to the Same Sex:

1. integrity
2. a sense of humor
3. altruism
4. a HUGE . . . smile
5. muscles
6. a hairy chest
7. a HUGE . . .

Seven Celebrity Crushes:

1. Madonna
2. Gerald McRainey
3. Patrick Stewart
4. Pet Shop Boys
5. Tom Jones
6. Sean Connery
7. Bruno

Monday, September 12, 2005

New Orleans Evacuee

I saw my second New Orleans evacuee in clinic today. She needed to refill several medicines for some chronic medical conditions. Without revealing any confidential information, all I can say is, she was an educated professional who tried to evacuate before the hurricane hit, but there was NO GAS LEFT IN THE CITY for her to fill her tank to drive her own car out. So she had to stay at home and weather the storm. When the flooding occurred, she SWAM to the freeway near her home, which was above the flood level, leaving her dog in the attic. She hitched a ride out in a personal car with a family who was leaving town. THEY DROVE OUT OF THE CITY THE DAY AFTER THE HURRICANE. They drove out! Why couldn't buses have been placed on higher ground, to drive people to safety after the storm? Why wasn't there enough fuel for people's cars so they could leave town? Why did so many people have to wait for so many days to be rescued, when the roads were wide open for traffic? I hold Michael Brown and FEMA and the Bush administration responsible. Their neglect of the people of New Orleans was simply criminal.

Hal Liddiard RIP

Every time a veteran dies, an angel gets a gun.

Sunday, September 11, 2005


The triolet is a tight little form, with enough repeating lines that, once you write a good couplet, the rest of the poem is not too far off.

Triolet (TREE-uh-lit, -lay) noun:

A poem or stanza of eight lines, having a rhyme scheme ABaAabAB, in
which the first, fourth, and seventh lines are the same, and second
is the same as the eighth line.

Here's an interesting link. And here is my lame attempt:

Can’t Swim, Can’t Whistle, Can’t Dance

Can’t swim. Can’t whistle. Can’t dance.
Obviously, we were meant for each other,
though anyone can see we both wear pants
and can’t swim, can’t whistle, can’t dance.
Such things should not be left to chance.
Who’d’ve guessed we’d be happiest with a lover
who can’t swim, can’t whistle, can’t dance?
Obviously, we were meant for each other.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Twenty Years Later, My Sister is Still Drowning

An amazingly prescient poem, by our own Kelli Russell Agodon, in the current issue of Bellevue Literary Review:

Twenty Years Later, My Sister is Still Drowning

She tells me about the ovenbird, its orange crown traveling swamps after sunset. She says it keeps an infant under its wing, tells me birds can sense children underwater. The dishes soaked overnight and though she knows it's just her reflection between suds, she mentions Jude, how saints appear in the waves of every body of water. We never talk about her second summer when she disappeared into the lake, the kingfisher hovering above her, the water that entered and exited in a burst as our father tossed her to shore shouting, Breathe, breathe! When she opens the refrigerator she laughs as she sees cantaloupe. Someone has carved God into the orange center, she says as if this world has not flooded around us, as if everything she said made sense.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Thursday, September 08, 2005

from New Orleans

"On Clouet Street, where a days-old fire continues to burn where a warehouse once stood, a man on a bicycle wheels up through the smoke to introduce himself as Strangebone. The nights without power or water have been tough, especially since the police took away the gun he was carrying - "They beat me and threatened to kill me," he says - but there are benefits to this new world."

"You're able to see the stars," he says. "It's wonderful."

— DAN BARRY, The New York Times 9-7-05

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kees & O'Hara: strange bedfellows

Great essay by John Yau in the current issue of American Poetry Review, comparing the lives and work of Weldon Kees and Frank O'Hara.

"Although separated by more than a decade, and associated with different literary tendencies, Kees and O'Hara loved the movies, modern art, and all kinds of music. They found popular culture exciting and vivacious, and they hated pretense. Both died young."

Kees comes off, in Yau's reading, as, ultimately, a joyless loner, who could not accept his life. O'Hara fares much better, as a playful, generous, and sensual participant in life. Near the end of the essay, Yau quotes one of my newest favorite O'Hara poems: "Ave Maria." I can just hear O'Hara's singular voice reading this poem out loud (and proud), and it makes me laugh and cry at the same time. The mix of the sublime with the mundane is truly magical.

Ave Maria (sorry the layout is not as in the original, but it doesn't really matter that much)

Mothers of America
let your kids go to the movies!
get them out of the house so they won't
know what you're up to
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by
silvery images
and when you grow old as grow old you
must they won't hate you
they won't criticize you they won't know
they'll be in some glamorous country
they first saw on a Saturday afternoon or
playing hookey
they may even be grateful to you
for their first sexual experience
which only cost you a quarter
and didn't upset the peaceful home
they will know where candy bars come
from and gratuitous bags of popcorn
as gratuitous as leaving the movie before
it's over
with a pleasant stranger whose apartment
is in the Heaven on
Earth Bldg
near the Williamsburg Bridge
oh mothers you will have made the
little tykes
so happy because if nobody does pick them up
in the movies
they won't know the difference
and if somebody does it'll be sheer gravy
and they'll have been truly entertained
either way
instead of hanging around the yard
or up in their room hating you
prematurely since you won't have done
anything horribly mean yet
except keeping them from life's darker joys
it's unforgivable the latter
so don't blame me if you won't take this
advice and the family breaks up
and your children grow old and blind in
front of a TV set seeing
movies you wouldn't let them see when
they were young

When The Levee Breaks

If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
If it keeps on rainin', levee's goin' to break,
When the levee breaks I'll have no place to stay.

Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Mean old levee taught me to weep and moan,
Got what it takes to make a mountain man leave his home,
Oh, well, oh, well, oh, well.

Don't it make you feel bad
When you're tryin' to find your way home,
You don't know which way to go?
If you're goin' down South,
There ain't no work to do;
If you're goin' North,
There's Chicago.

Cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
Now, cryin' won't help you, prayin' won't do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
All last night sat on the levee and moaned,
Thinkin' about me baby and my happy home.
Going, going to Chicago... Going to Chicago... Sorry but I can't take you...
Going down... going down now... going down....

from Led Zepplin IV, 1971, based on a 1929 recording of the same name by Blues artist Memphis Minnie McCoy.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Life in the Vernacular

a lapsed Catholic
the attic trunk a tabernacle

bits of silver
hammered to a rosewood cross

the dark Madonna
her death flowers

among the dust motes

for the mute

— from Rock & Sling fall 2004 issue

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Word Made Flesh

I am on a panel titled The Word Becomes Flesh at the Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle this afternoon, along with Shelley Jackson (of tattooed-on-the-body novel fame), Emily Warn, Marc Bamuthi Joseph, and Dennis Evans. Read more about it here. And read a terrific interview with Shelley Jackson here. I am not sure what I am going to say or read, but I'm sure it will be viscerally spiritual (or is that spiritually visceral?).

Saturday, September 03, 2005

My Favorite Martian

I grew up watching My Favorite Martian in the early sixties. It seemed perfectly normal to me, these two men living together in a little apartment above a neighbor's garage. But I know now that Tim O'Hara's secret was not that his "Uncle Martin" was an extraterrestrial from Mars: He was his queeny gay lover. How else explain all the camp cultural references, the gourmet meals they cooked together, the endless wit, and the biting sarcasm. Posted by Picasa

. . . aren't they just an adorable couple? Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 02, 2005


Developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort

0- Calm: Silent; smoke rises vertically.
1- Light Air: Direction of wind shown by smoke drift.
2- Light Breeze: Wind felt on face; leaves rustle.
3- Gentle Breeze: Leaves and small twigs in constant motion; wind extends light flag.
4- Moderate Breeze: Raises dust and loose paper; small branches are moved.
5- Fresh Breeze: Small trees in leaf begin to sway;
6- Strong Breeze: Large branches in motion; whistling heard in telegraph wires; umbrellas used with difficulty.
7- Near Gale: Whole trees in motion; inconvenience felt when walking against the wind.
8- Gale: Breaks twigs off trees; generally impedes progress.
9- Severe Gale: Slight structural damage occurs, chimney-pots and slates removed.
10- Storm: Seldom experienced inland; trees uprooted; considerable structural damage occurs.
11- Violent Storm: Very rarely experienced; accompanied by wide-spread damage.
12- Hurricane: A giant sucking sound occurs, the end of the Bush presidency.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Question of the Week(end)

If you were a gay man, would you wear capri pants?

Please choose one:

A: Definitely yes! They are the latest fashion statement.
B: Maybe: it depends upon how hot it it is outside.
C: What are capri pants? Are they like cargo pants?
D: Definitely no. I would not be caught dead wearing them.
E: Gay men do not wear capri pants. They are strictly for metrosexuals.

Autobiographia Literaria

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out "I am
an orphan."

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!

— Frank O Hara

I just adore this little poem. I have been feeling very much in tune with O'Hara's voice and sensibility and playfulnesss of late.