Pornography Disclaimer

This is a an imaginary diary of facts, confessions, or messages. This is a notebook of working but broken ideas, lines, images, notes on books I'm reading, writers I admire, and brief fantasies of language. Here unfiltered  all mannerings pseudo-private, publicized, ur-. Here I am art and unrevealed: poetic, political and pop. These are my moonlit rough beginnings and should not be taken literally, directly, truthfully, reliably, and none of it is legally binding. These lies are all choreographed, but only haphazardly. Beware.




preluded by a few lines from Sabines' book, translated by Jeffrey Levine and Ernesto Trejo:

So here's how it's done: you put on your mask,
assume your voice, embroider your dreams.
Put on the face of a lover,
the wounded face,
the contented smile,
Monday and Tuesday, and the month of March,
and the year of human solidarity,
you eat on the hour as best as you can,
and sleep and make love, 
and go on secretly rehearsing for the final act
that no one will witness.

Hallelujah Blackout by Alex Lemon
Little Boat by Jean Valentine
Tarumba by Jaime Sabines
Watching the Spring Festival by Frank Bidart
Exceptions and Melancholies by Ralph Angel

Envelope of Night by Michael Burkard
My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe
Truant Lover by Juliet Patterson

Warhorses by Yusef Komunyakaa
The Man with Night Sweats by Thom Gunn
Factory of Tears by Valzhyna Mort
Theories and Apparitions by Mark Doty
Hagiography by Jenn Currin
Totem by Gregory Pardlo

A Worldly Country by John Ashberry

"he didn't look like a good loser, a dark angry expression on his face, his head down, and while the men, speaking French, scattered along the porch in search of glasses of ice-cold champagne, the lady went up to the little gaucho, who was left standing alone, holding his horse's reins in his left hand (at the other end of the long yard the little gaucho's father headed off toward the stables with the horse the German had ridden), and told him, in an incomprehensible language, not to be sad, that he had ridden an excellent race but her husband was good too and more experienced, words that to the little gaucho sounded like the moon, like the passage of clouds across the moon, like a slow storm, and then the little gaucho looked up at the lady with the eyes of a bird of prey, ready to plunge a knife into her at the navel and slice up to the breasts, cutting her wide open, his eyes shining with a strange intensity, like the eyes of a clumsy young butcher, as the lady recalled, which didn't stop her from following him without protest when he took her by the hand and led her to the other side of the house, to a place where a wrought-iron pergola stood, bordered by flowers and trees that the lady had never seen in her life or which at that moment she thought she had never seen in her life, and she even saw a fountain in the park, a stone fountain, in the center of which balanced on one little foot, a creole cherub with smiling features danced, part European and part cannibal, perpetually bathed by three jets of water that spouted at its feet, a fountain sculpted from a single piece of black marble, a fountain that the lady and the little gaucho admired at length, until a distant cousin of the rancher appeared (or a mistress whom the rancher had lost in the deep folds of memory), telling her in brusque and serviceable English that her husband had been looking for her for some time . . . 

(I'm just in the watching the first petal of this novel curl black at the edge of its rose, but goddamn I'm drinking it, Bolano's strange year. This interlude is an excerpt of one sentence that dreams for five pages!)

2666 by Roberto Bolano
The Quiet Girl by Peter Hoeg
My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino
The Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima

The White Book by Jean Cocteau
Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber
Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
The Sea by John Banville 

prologue: I did a bump or two of Heidegger off a mirror. In the mirror nearness is a gathering up of space, where we dwell among that absence which is our own, that we cradle, that we build to remark upon the abyss--only I have a Dyonisian tongue and would go a step further than Heidegger to say we dwellers seek monument and revolt. The boy was abducted by an alien, but they left the goat part behind. The poem was not abducted. It was a cup, a bridge, an embrace to frame that darkness which we know alone and fear and pray to. Darkness of the embrace that out of space and noplace beams us up into the Unseen. how Shadow drinks up loss. Chaos. Laughter like the sea. Liquid of the Year, I'll hold you here. 
. . . . . .



Finished the semester, finally have some late nights to myself again, long hours for reading and listening.

Read handfuls, heartfuls, dreamfuls: 

think there is a conversation between Adolfo Bioy Casares Asleep In the Sun and Kafka's The Trial, for their similar protagonists who can't believe their predicaments, though I think Casares has a better sense of humor. His outcome is not less disturbing.

Miguel is inside an index of slightly horrifying hardons, and he likes it. Guest's much slobbered over book is worth the rave, but for me his best poems touch depthless and so beautiful sorrows:

"But here in the night made of alarms
a train shambles
through the dark
and it's hard to hear the trees speaking
the language we made 
for them. Or I did
thinking of you
who taught me regret.
There are nights when I dream 
of stolen oranges.
How we ran away with the sun in our arms."

I like to think about his line breaks and what Freud would say about the anxiety of a line break. There's so much of Guest as a writer in them, impulse wefted into craft. Like too his joy in tangent, though in many of the poems I start to feel as if I'm reading prose, not because he's writing prose but maybe because what I want from a book of poems is not the same as what I want from a poem. One or two of these at a time last longer for me. 

Playing a lot of video games too on playstation. Starwars I'm mindlightning and saberswift. Dead Space alien alone, mutations and weaponry. 

Next week's my birthday, finding a proper silence for it. A proper descent. Listening to Bach arias and Brahms piano variations on a theme by Paganini, and Pink's new album too. 

secret birthday: Dexter marathon. Bolano's 2666. Gifts to me. 

Doty, am I your theory or your apparition? Goddamn that clapping poem, that cathedral of the imagined self that is real. 

Glad--not the right word--helped by, affirmed, hopeful that in his New and Selected only two poems from his first book were included! And only five from his second! 

Fire from Fire, marry me! You're homo-hot. 

Speaking of marriage, Willa Cather's My Mortal Enemy--symmetrical little novel built around the cold myth and death of an eccentric who gets herself disowned for love. Temperamental passions, I prefer Dostoyevsky to Tolstoy. But she blurts out little gems like this:

"Look for that little short one, about the flower that grows on the suicide's grave, die Armesunderblum, the poor-sinner's-flower. Oh that's the flower for me, Nellie; die Arme-sunder-blum! she drew the word out until it was a poem in itself."

Miguel is aspiring to be a romantic.



Friends and Strangers, read my piece about the recent struggles for gay couples to legitimize their marriages at Poetry Foundation's blog, Harriet:


Tonight I am a parade of love and anger.



I'm celebrating today. 

I'm mourning today. 

My state, my country, elected a person of color, a figure of change and real hope for the future.

My state has failed to oppose the bigotry of Proposition 8, now making illegal some 18,000 gay marriages. 

My President has spoken to me personally in his acceptance speech, inviting "gays and straights", naming us, including us in the national discussion. I was deeply moved, and if I had any doubts or misgivings, this small phrase made him my friend. I found myself wanting to follow him, wanting to fight for a better country, wanting to believe in him. 

I believe in him. 

Today in California, my own gay married friends are now burdened by the fact that the great draws in voting by people of color, my people, who have come out to vote in historic numbers, have also come out to vote against us with Prop. 8. 

There was a great rally downtown for those supporters of Prop. 8 last weekend that I found particularly offensive. All people of color. Of which I am one. My people. Latin American, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, African American. Signs in other languages. Crosses. A united front against gay marriage. Against equality. Against me. Their signs read: "A vote for Prop.8 equals freedom for marriage." But they cannot disown me.

The African American organizer for Prop. 8 said last night on television that Black voters want to preserve the family for children to have a mommy and a daddy. 

If we want to protect children, why are we bringing them to hate rallies? Why are we having them stand on street corners screaming for Prop. 8? It's obscene. What exactly are we protecting? Those who support Prop. 8 are not motivated by mathematics, logic, empathy, and certainly not love, especially considering the divorce rates in this country:

50% percent of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce, according to Jennifer Baker of the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology in Springfield, Missouri.

According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America:
The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%
The divorce rate in America for second marriage is 60%
The divorce rate in America for third marriage is 73%

Prop. 8 is fanatical and filled with prejudice. Why trust gay men and women to cut your hair, write your television shows, do your banking, file your taxwork, drive your buses, serve as your councilmen, your senator woman, operate on your bodies, teach your children, write up your life insurance policies, pay taxes, bag your groceries, pour your coffees, sell you clothing, defend your legal cases, act as your shrink, and in my case, serve as your literature professor, why trust us to have civic responsibilities, to perform and participate in business, government, religious life, the arts, education. . . and then tell us that you don't believe we should be able to marry. Why wouldn't you trust us to believe in love, to choose for ourselves who to make lifelong commitments to, to pursue the sacred endeavors of a spiritual pursuit with another person, to make for ourselves family, to have a ceremony and to have legal rights that endorse that ceremony? 

Friends and Strangers, what, really, would be so bad if you and your family were invited to my wedding to celebrate with me, to share in my happiness for a moment? What would be so wrong with fostering this joy and human friendship?

Come break bread with us. We'll eat cake. We'll get drunk for love. There'll be a D.J.

It will be a celebration, but not today.

Today we have to think about what to tell the children of 18,000 gay marriages in this state. What should we say, that we believe their family is a lie, that it does not exist? Do we tell them their parents of 5 years, 15 years, 27 years, 30 even 40 years of partnership are null, void, illegal? Is this our "civic" duty? It is a profoundly sad day. When our humanity is denied by our friends, family, country men and women.

Separate is NOT equal.

Haven't we learned anything from the Civil Rights movement?

People of Color, in my California, why do you H8?

. . . . . . . .



""If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

"It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen; by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the very first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different; that their voice could be that difference.

"It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled - Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of Red States and Blue States: we are, and always will be, the United States of America."

. . . . . . . .



On of the books I slept with last month is Factory of Tears by Valzhyna Mort, a bilingual text translated from the Belarusian by the Wrights (Franz and Elizabeth). 

Belarus, if you don't know, was part of the Russian block, and it has a volatile political history. It has been a "part" of Russia ("White Russia") Lithuania in the 13th century, and Poland. It's been split between Poland and Russia, and in WWII the Nazis occupied it. Most of the fallout of the  Chernobyl explosion of the 80's blew into it and since its independence in 1991, it's had a terrible time with the corrupt authoritarian leader, Lukashenka, who has cancelled elections, run a police "death squad", and been criticized by the EU and US for human rights violations.

That's a little history. 

The author has published a single volume of poetry in Belarus in 2005, I'm as Thin As Your Eyelashes, a title that I find curiously confusing. Is it a problem of the translation or an abyss between us culturally? The poem itself is without title, a mere four lines, just the phrase. I'm not sure what it means, and though it feels provocative, it also feels melodramatic. Delicate, but dangerous. Vision, but with the silken threat of pain. Is it related somehow to the political history of the place? Despite my difficulty with her original title, and in contrast to my small frustration, here's the opening poem to this English translation, both morbid and archetypal:

Belarusian I

even our mothers have no idea how we were born
how we parted their legs and crawled out into the world
the way you crawl from the ruins after a bombing
we couldn't tell which of us was a girl or a boy
we gorged on dirt thinking it was bread
and our future
a gymnast on a thin thread of the horizon
was performing there 
at the highest pitch

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you anymore
but riding in those dark cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

completely free only in public toilets
where for a little change nobody cared what we were doing
we fought the summer heat the winter snow
when we discovered we ourselves were the language
and our tongues were removed we started talking with our eyes
when our eyes were poked out we talked with our hands
when our hands were cut off we conversed with our toes
when we were shot in the legs we nodded our heads for yes
and shook our heads for no and when they ate our heads alive
we crawled back into the bellies of our sleeping mothers
as if into bomb shelters 
to be born again

and there on the horizon the  gymnast of our future
was leaping through the fiery hoop
of the sun

. . . . . . .
I don't know much about V., whose name is vampiric and lovely, except that her bio says she lives in the states and a few of these poems reference U.S. cities: "Fall In Tampa" "Florida Beaches" and "New York". She's won a number of awards overseas and this collection is published by Copper Canyon.  Thankfully this bilingual collection fares with a better title, one that reflects her work, or at least this collection of translations, to a much more satisfying degree. A work in which human suffering is partially the work of governments, human bureaucracies. I wonder, incidentally, what an "American" poem would look like, a brother to this poem, in which an American author attempted to mythologize the American experience. (In the peripheries I'm thinking of a line or two by Ai. . . ) 

What I love about this book: it thinks politically without serving up a "political" poem. I'm thinking of those poems with cities, or countries, or types of people as titles: those mentioned above and "White Trash" "Berlin-Minsk" "Polish Immigrants" and "Belarusian II". These are poetic portraits in which we get a sense of both being part of these places/people as well as the mythos of our experience there.  Take these stanzas from "New York":

a gigantic pike
whose scales 
bristled up stunned

and what used to be just smoke
found the fire that gave it birth

champagne foam
melted into metal 
glass rivers 
flowing upward,
things you won't tell to a priest
you reveal to a cabdriver

What we find in this stanza is true of most of her poetry--her sense of metaphor is energetic, a motivating force of the language. In fact, her best poems are lyric and satisfyingly difficult in their use of abstraction. We might call this surrealist technique, though it seems to me a way to pursue an archetypal truth about places and people. If poetry is a way to express the hidden experience, the experience hidden beneath the dull journalism of even our most difficult experiences, our politicized lives, then here is V. Mort pillaging the depths: 


when someone spends a lot of time running
and bashing his head
against a cement wall
the cement grows warm
and he curls up with it
against his cheek
like a starfish medusa
and senses
how the body uses memory
to bind it to the earth
and he waits there for the moment
when his eyes turn
into wobbling tops
and the whole colorful universe
appears like the deep
hole in the sink

. . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!



So in case anyone was confused,

of COURSE I'm voting! 

I had a minute in those debates where I was shocked and offended enough to say it to myself (I'm not voting for these creeps I love), but it was short-lived, angry, and really not useful. 

In California we're worried about Proposition 8, which tries to overturn the legality of Gay Marriage in our state. It's pretty important, since many couples have had their marriages legalized, illegalized, legalized, and now under the threat of being illegalized again.. . The whole thing really highlights the absurdity of the issue, and the idea of marriage itself. What's so offensive is the fact that a marriage can be nullified arbitrarily by the state.

The offensive have taken a lot of money to play these awful commercials constantly on our televisions: a small girl comes home from school with a kid's book: Kings and Kings. Mommy, she squeals delightedly, today I learned that a King can marry a King and I can marry a Princess! The mother's face darkens with concern and the law professor from Christian Conservative Pepperdine University steps forward to tell us that this scenario is already happening in Massachusetts and parents have no recourse to complain.

As if a child's book could make you gay.

As if schools teach anything about marriage in the first place.

As if children don't watch television and listen to the radio and use computers and don't know that there are different kinds of people all over the place.

I remember Crane's invitation:

Come, it is too late, too late,
to risk alone the light's decline.

Here's a youtube video I like, that spoofs the mac commercials in our interest:



So this has been bothering me since the Vice Presidential Debates:

Already upset by the Republican approach to just about every spectrum of the political agenda, I have decided to vote for Obama. It took me a second. I LOVED Clinton. Bring her back, I say. 

O.k., then I got over it. The more I see McCain (fearmongering) and the more I see Palin (I mean, the first time she travels out of the country, she makes sure to get footage of herself firing an AK-47? Really?) the more proud and necessary and importantly I feel about my vote for the Obiden ticket. 

Then in the middle of the Vice Presidential Debates: the gay question. The uncomfortable shifting in the room. The squirm on Palin's face when she insinuates that she has gay friends and family. The awful burst of laughter from the audience and the candidates to be relieved of talking about us, the gays. And that cold, sure, resonant NO, when Biden firmly responded that he does not believe in gay marriage. 

Why haven't I read more about this? 

Friends and Strangers, let me tell you, this HURT me. I am a tax paying, loyal, responsible citizen. I am trusted to teach college students how to think and write critically. I contribute to my community and to society in a significant, if not seriously under-appreciated way, poorly PAID FOR BY THE STATE. Here I am, an intelligent and involved member of this country, and my own party, who I believe in, who I've been fervently speaking for, arguing for, who I've sent my hard earned money to, has now openly and nationally disavowed their support for me. I've never felt so marginalized in my life. Growing up Chicano, I knew, was often told, but I never felt I was on the outside of anything. I had rights. And I knew it. I was different sure, but I felt in myself a sense of equal humanistic footing. I was shocked into disbelief when I was called a "spick" in the hallways of my traditionally white Arizona college prep high school. But my friends of color and I felt a sense of self-propriety. No one could mistreat us legally. We knew we were equal. 

And with one cruel word, one coldly spoken, monolithic no, I suddenly felt that I did not belong, that those things I believed in did not qualify me to be held as an equal. I don't think a word has ever hurt me as much as this one, spoken so clearly and easily and awfully to our nation.

This whole conversation about the difference between civil and religious ceremony is a load of crap--it's a distraction, a way of saying we're not the same and that we shouldn't be treated the same. It's a way of minimizing the significance of the relationship and the idea of the relationship between gay couples.

I don't want to get married. I never have. But I do want to know that as a human being among others, I can be allowed the idea of a sacred pursuit. Not to mention the legal rights associated with that devotion! The great irony is that I've written and officiated three of my sisters weddings and one of my cousin's. 

I don't know how it feels for gay republicans to be so openly refused by their party. For myself, I felt disappointed, orphaned, disavowed, broken-up with, abandoned, and alone. What a bunch of pussies! Or as they say on Dan Savage's Lovecast: what a bunch of scrotes! I really loved Joe Biden, trusted him, shit I even thought he should be the one running for president! But hearing that response, and the pat "well at least you both agree on something"--so that the ONE point that both parties can agree on is the ridiculous idea that gays should be able make a sacred pursuit together, to make and pursue promises, to create a kind of ceremony as monument, and to have the same economic rights recognized by the state as our neighbors and family and co-workers and employees, well

It made me feel like I didn't want to vote for anyone. I paced my room. I'm not voting. I am so not voting. Disbelief, and a realization. I mean, what are we? Persons criminal. Profane. 

I've come around, but I'm not done being angry and in love.

So here it is. I was asked early this year to edit an issue of OCHO magazine, due out February 2009. Dear gay Friends and Strangers, dear Fags, Dikes, Trannies, Transvestites, He-she's, She-males, Tomboys and Mamas-boys, Lesbos, Fudge-packers, Muff-divers, Bears, Twinks and Closet Freaks, Butch and Lipstick, Hairdresser or Harley-rider, Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green--Dear family, dear people of color and other,

Friends and Strangers, please forward this to everyone you can.  Please forward this to your friends, family, peers, professors and students:

This is my call for queer poetry, essays on poetics, and reviews of works by queer poets for the 2009 OCHO magazine DEAR AMERICA, DON'T BE MY VALENTINE issue. 

Your work does not have to address the politics of this post. The purpose of this issue is to highlight and bring together a strong sampling of diverse work by queer authors in the contemporary American poetry scene. 

Please submit your work as a single word doc attachment, pasting your cover letter and bio in the message itself, to: dontbemyvalentine@hotmail.com 

. . . . . . .


. . . . . . . .

Tonight I'm staying in with a book. Peter Hoeg's The Quiet Girl. I've loved him since his first novel, The Borderliners, about a boarding school in Iceland and the young boys who survived it. I think I even tried to write something about the boy sneaking out to the shed to steal gasoline and set the school aflame. . .  swans on fire, swans of ash, or some such nonsense. 

Haven't been able to put away my September Reads. They're littering my desk. I guess I'm not finished. Or they're not finished with me. 

Re-read Cormac McCarthy's The Road
Thom Gunn's Boss Cupid
Frank Bidart's Watching the Spring Festival
Yusef Komunyakaa's Warhorses
Antonio Lobo Antunes' What Can I Do When Everything's Burning
Jenn Currin's Hagiography
Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles
Adam Zagajewski's Eternal Enemies
Jaime Sabines' Tarumba
Valzhyna Mort's Factory of Tears
A chapter from Georges Batailles' The Absence of Myth
and one from Julia Kristeva's Powers of Horror

They're a pretty noisy crowd here. Maybe in the next few nights I'll take on a few of them so I can put them away. Constellation of poems, lines, feelings. . .   "This is how dead men haunt their murderers dreams."

Windy here, off the beach. 
Up in the leaves, a storm. Not really, 

just the eucalyptus acting like the sea.

. . . . . . .



. "If greenness 
were woven into weather, 
. into jackfruit & lotus
blooms, how could there be
.  death in my mouth?"

Some lines from Yusef Komunyakaa's long poem, "Autobiography of My Alter Ego", from his new work WarHorses.

Today I spent about 3 hours trying to get a prescription about a month old. You wouldn't believe the disconnected, indifferent, careless, and hurtful experience. Phone call after phone call after impatient pharmacist after phone call. My prescription in her hands. White and cheap in the Long's CVS off Main and Rose. Two bottles 50 bucks I don't have. Finally, after the humiliation and argument, I pay what I don't have. 

The death in my mouth is green. I'm raving envy. The war in my life is the body's restless privations, the infinitessimal clocks springing loose into dust and perfume. I'm flaring out, bluing to cold so slowly it seems like I'm a flowering corpse of a man. Walking around, trying to feed myself a few pills, a cup of strong coffee, some sweet black cake. Thank god there's a little chocolate to smear on my face while I cry. 

Oh and the respite of the lovely, lovely fog, on the way home, blurring everything in its blissfully cool distortions. Mist to blur the green palm trees, the idiocy of the nuclear blue sea becomes the rain color over a tin roof, gun-softened and metallic. Oh rain, oh white. Voices of the homeless yelling over a shopping cart, the regular prostitute yelling she's gonna murder some bitch tonight, and my bicycle squealing past. oh good breath, pillow for my night. Good puppy to rush me with your little hot tongue, to cover my face in your small fervent kisses, joy-crazed, happy, home alone.




This is a spraypaint graffiti tag on the building at the corner of Brooks and Pacific, about two streets south of where I live. White lettering, caps, on walls painted dirty avocado. Feeling it today in my limbs, not my poems. The last two nights have been hypnotic, the fat half moon falling leaf-white then smoldering dark bronze. Tremorous flame, around midnight it crashes, hot torn orange peel snuffed into the ash of a black sea. A loud cold blackness. It's so rare to be so perfectly alone. You can almost taste your own satellite. To the north, the Santa Monica Pier, the new digitalized lighting on the ferris wheel computer blue, stutters and rolls. Outward, standing between two darknesses, say between two shores in a late Rothko. Not sad. Severe, enthralling. Speechless abyss, and on the edge of it a feeling. Where else does the blood tend, if not toward some crude lettering. I was here. I was here. I was here. 

I'm voting for Obama. 

I was watching the debates, worried by the McCainimal. I don't understand how a campaign virtually parallel with this administration--whose approval rating is at %16--can appropriate phrases for change. Their misguided passion over environmental issues seems to me indicative of their whole philosophy, that proposes something logical, even inarguable, and then insists that something destructive is the only way to achieve it. As in, Yes, we should be an energy independent nation--but as our awareness of global warning is at its peak, the last thing we should be doing is drilling for oil in our nation's nature preserves! Our politicians might learn something from taking a little walk alone in a darkness so big they are orphaned. They might learn something by reading McCarthy's The Road. When the son asks his father if they will ever have to eat another person, even if they're starving, he says, never. The boy understands. They are starving, but they're trying to save something in themselves. That something is what I think McCain loses sight of. He's so hungry for the win I think he's lost any ability to stop, to listen, to find a center, out from which any substantive help can be found. He's lost that silence in the middle that can nourish him. He's insatiable, spitting and salivating, wolfmad. He's in that ring of Dante's hell that is most American, the ring of hunger and no satisfaction, thirst and thirst and thirst. It's pure capitalism. Shallow, flooded, wasteful. The wet scraps of our romanhood falling by the cannibalistic wayside. 

The boy in McCarthy's novel understands with an archetypal naivete, a primitive ethics,  why they won't ever eat another person: "because we're carrying the fire." McCain's fire is literal, ravenous, and destructive. Obama's fire is metaphorical, spiritual. I like that he's slow to answer, that he's contemplative. That he weighs what's at stake in the long run. There's something handsome about a deep patience. Maybe I'm a romantic. I am. I need to be to care--I need a reason to pay higher taxes, I need an idea to believe in, I need to feel that I am part, that I participate, that I matter, that my money and my life contribute to something beyond what I can see and do on a daily basis. America, where are you? I'm dying to believe in you. McCain's a madman. Obama . . . a mystery. A myth. I want it.

And then today,--clearly biased, but still worrisome--this:



. . . . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers,

now features

new artwork by Hawai'ian surfer Heather Brown 

poetry by Randall Mann, Juliet Patterson, Sean Nevin,
Paul Legault, Oliver de la Paz, Vidhu Aggarwal

and 2 poems as play-in-verse by Christine Leclerc.


. . . . . . . . 



There's something reminiscent of James L. White's The Salt Ecstasies in Laura Jensen's Memory. Something so confessional and vulnerable, as if the poems can barely be spoken aloud. They have a private spell, one that memory casts, with its difficult but necessary moonlit weights and departures. Here's the last two stanzas of White's "Lying in Sadness":

"It's dark.
You exhale a fist of memory.
I love you like weathering wood
in a room of empty pianos.

When you return to something you love,
it's already beyond repair.
You wear it broken."

It's this sense of impossible return, the struggle of similes to find the right image to say the right feeling, and the nostalgia, the homesickness, that make me feel Jensen and White are related. I can't get one out of the other, even though White's book is filled with a lover's elegies and Jensen's is written to her self as a woman alone.

I haven't read her before. Oh I've listened to the myths, heard the stories of some crazy lady in a muumuu wandering AWP, been to the blog that is something of a bird's picking of lines, a nesting in pieces, straws, ribbons, facts. I've touched Bad Boats, and almost bought one when I was an undergrad, when the book was still in bookstores, but I hadn't the good sense to steal it.

Today I took Carnegie Mellon's new edition of Memory out to the beach, and though I was struck by the rooted feminism of the book, which Kevin Prufer points out in the foreword, I was more struck by how it results in witchy announcements from the kitchen, from the single woman in the world, from the girl-child. In fact, it's one of the quieter things I love about the book: Jensen's uncanny ability to return us to the woodlands, half-dressed. The woman alone, I think, is rare in books. I didn't even know I craved it until I read her. Poems like "West Window" ("It is all here in a cluttered cache / my luck, my dreams, and privacy.") or "Last Saturday of the Year" which ends with a description of a chair: 

"I stop for coffee. 
The chair seat is beautiful. It is round
with a pattern of water lilies, cattails,
flags, pale brown on a brown ground." 

You'd never know, with such adoration and careful attention to the beauty of the chair seat, that the same poet wrote these lines just a stanza before:

"And it is noon. A cock crows.
It is like a thin wolf crying."

Jensen is tonally masterful, and the ease with which she sees, with which her poetry moves from the adoration of a thing to its almost terror-full description, for me, is bewitching. She is the mother we fear. I say what I mean. Her poem "Lipstick", for example, ends in the terror of abstraction and recognition:

"Of me there were single hairs, brown with damp.
I was looking up. In the white air by me
there was printed an emblem in a black square,
a signature. I was what was there."

 . . . . . . . .

I'm sure I should say more, but the waves are so imaginary I have to touch them, I have to hurl my half-nude body at their cool wall. Then, I'll walk out of the green foam like some new kind of wet discovery. I'll have to peel the dying seaweed from my calves. My skin will be stinging in all this light, cathedrals of salt and empty applause.
. . . . . . . . 

Of course my favorite poems are always mythic entertainments and fairy tales, poems for children. My favorites get their children baked into pies and eaten. My favorites get lost and thrown into prison. My favorites are orphaned:


If every man were a clove and ginger
man, all smiles while the storm shook the glass,
if every cookie shaped like a horse
could tempt snow into cedars and paths,
if the candlelight looked down on 
a real person made of flour and spice,
there he would be, all plaid and patchouli,
striking her harmless as gratitude,
harmless as a little chipping bird
at heart, that when he comes close, must fly.

She made her saints of bone, each multiple
and dinosaurian, all those fragments
enormous in possibility. The hands
of the scholar fell together in sleep,
spooned soup by daylight, lived and breathed
to die. The moon paused when she looked
its way, a mask on the sky. Light is not
a disguise for darkness, not yet, not
in her mind, not this day, in her present,
while out of a candle breathes his scent.

It is a waste of time, following men,
but what else can you do, if you do not
know the way to trap one? She followed him
out to the snow in her argyles, in that 
town that had winter, knowing she was wrong.
But what is a little light in the window?
What is a circle of flour, little mounds
of soda and salt, recipes like prayers 
but the old pursuit? He's the gingerbreadman.
You cannot catch him.
. . . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!

. . . . . . . . .



. . . . . . . . . .

I finally have summer, which is more a feeling than a season. More morning sunlight without any ache, more hummingbird sewing the air, more eucalyptus hiding its bones in green tea leaves and yellow wood curls, the fringes embroidered by golden needles, more spiderweb and gleam, more crashing in the distance that isn't death, how softness arrives, more absence isn't. Blue.

I took Donald Revell's latest book, A Thief of Strings, out to the beach, not really sure that I'd read it. I loved the title and I love his third collection, New Dark Ages, which is mostly evenly written narratives and strict stanzas. Strings is an Alice James book, three sections, 68 pages. Lyrics. Visions. I read the book a section at a time, getting down on my knees to blow the Pacific, bodysurfing salt, his lightning and dark glare. Dug my feet in the sand and read some more. "The sky was very near" writes Revell, and I'm with him. Color is a guitar string. Sunset is the killing Adagio of our time. Revell, I think, is staring into the star of dew, and seeing 

"A prism that is
Cool as a leaf, cool
And vaporous as grass
When grass goes home."

. . . . . . . .

I'm really surprised by how much these poems stay with me. I love their deep but playful contemplations. I like the lines I don't understand, even more when they're paired with lines I do: 

"I want to go to the Garden of Eden to die. 
Happiness and Despair are of one mind. 
And the Devil is another evergreen burr-marigold gentleman."

I'm reminded in his work of Yeats' preoccupation with symbolism and myth. It's an oddly religious book, without being religious. Revell is at the core of something. The light transparent skeletons of leaves. White, rare. The soul of green, that is holy. "What is a good place" he asks, "to break down to die / To ask such a question / Is one heaven" In some ways Revell is interested in origins and human feeling. What drives us to experiences like love or spirit:


I am the grass I dreamed I was.
From inside a drop of dew
Comes the speed to outspeed you.
I have seen it.
Imagine something like a cloud, but like diamonds too.

The human eye began as grass.
In the first mornings, 
Water raced out of the air
Becoming Soul, who is the speed of things.
I lay my head onto the ground.
Is my dog a god because he kills a rabbit?

I lay my head beside the broken animal.
Our eyes meet. The world belongs to him.

. . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . .

One of my favorite poems reminds me of the nature of seasons, that depart with part of us forever. "It will be a glorious spectacle" he writes in the title poem, 

"and I will be the only one there to enjoy it. No stems, no roots anymore, a glorious spectacle, and the meadows so many mirrors signaling with bright lights frantically. It has never been done." 

Beauty and death are never far apart, inside one another, twin.  My happiest poem in the book takes a religious holiday of a brutal death as its title and boyishly writes it. This is the entertainment of the dreaming self. We dream for ourselves our own dangerous, but good beginning:


The clown is hurt between two trees.
His circus went far away, and they are happy there
With many animals, living by the sea.

Here, the low bushes are like little pigs,
And the flowers fierce, with great teeth in them.
I see no animals in the sky, but my mother does.

I see lights under the ground at night.
I hear them digging sometimes, and I know
One morning very early when the house is sleeping

Creatures no one has ever seen here
Will come up through the floors.
Their faces will be fires. Their fur will smell of earth

And of secret white things, buried a long time. 
If I go with them, I will never die.

. . . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!

. . . . . . . . 



. . . . . . . .

The first collection I ever read by Gerald Stern is Bread without Sugar. What I remember about it now is Stern's positioning of voice--that's too technical and annoying--his movement in the poem that is always marked by left and right sides. In his left hand an ache, in his right a fist of bright crocus.  I love how these poems flex, in short and long lines, in great fat poems that are somehow bouyant: 

"This is how I bent

my head between my knees, the channels and veins
pumping wildly, one leg freezing, one leg

on fire.  That is the saxophone
and those are the symbols; when it gets up here 
the roar of the waves is only a humming, a movement
back and forth, some sloshing we get used to."

Even in these few lines we see Stern's characteristic associative and nervy locomotions. Always anchored by the body, always made elegant by some mental abstraction that dramatizes large and small perspectives, always the sense of humor that weighs beauty with the grotesqueries of our mortal limitations in song. His books feel large and overwhelming, unrelenting, I go numb. It's rare that I could read straight through. They're heady, too perfumed, dizzying, narcotic. Strong.

I've been a deep, enthusiastic fan of his since that first book, and made myself studious admiring the longer poems, "Hot Dog" especially. So much so that I was shocked and bliss-hit by a few short poems in the New Yorker a few years ago--the poem "Sylvia" I immediately set out to memorize. These poems were thrilling for me because I found them surprisingly, even uncharacteristically short, though they don't lose any of Stern's gusto or sting. In his latest books, American Sonnets and Everything Is Burning, he's written some of his strongest, sharpest lyrics. Short bursting bulbs, little flowers, little suns.  

His newest collection, Save the Last Dance, is a great collection that continues these short blossoms, surprising like a flock of crocus in a concrete alleyway. What I love about this book is how it flexes Stern's abilities. It begins with one of these harsh little beauties and ends with the longer poem "The Preacher", first published by Sarabande as a chapbook. In between are stout lyrics broken by longer poems of short singing couplets. The poem "Before Eating" is both fun and lovely: "Leave me alone, / I want to worry; // make me lamb chops / make me curry." This is not to say that Stern abandons any serious thought--this book is all brain: song philosophy. The first lines of the final poem, the long poem in the book, "The Preacher", are contemplative, elegaic lines that consider existence in a fashion relative to theoretical physics:

"As if the one tree you love so well and hardly
can embrace it is so huge so that with-
out it there might be a hole in the universe
explains how the killing of any one thing can
likewise make a hole except that without
its existence there was neither a hole nor not a hole"

It's true that the title to the book feels sentimental, self-indulgent. And it is! But in a serious, true manner. That poem, "Save the Last Dance for Me" is one of my favorites in the book. Stylistically it's reminiscent of poems in Stern's earlier collection "Last Blue" for the length of its lines. The poem concerns Stern's memory of saving a little Chihuahua from drowning in a sewer and being unable to remember the little dog's name:

"though he who weighed a pound
could easily fall into
the opening, such was our life
and such were our lives the last
few years before the war when
there were four flavors of ice cream
and four flavors only; I'll call him
Fatty; I'll call him Peter;
Jésus, I'll call him, but only
in Spanish, with the "h" sound,
as it is in Mexico;
Jésus, kiss me again,
Jésus, you saved me,
Jésus, I can't forget you"

. . . . . . . . 

Speaking of dogs, song, and philosophy, the first poem of the book is another of my favorites:


Diogenes for me and sleeping in a  bathtub
and stealing the key to the geneology room
close to the fake Praxiteles and ripping
a book up since the wrath had taken me
over the edge again and you understand
as no one else how when the light is lit
I have to do something. I couldn't hold my arm up
for nothing, I couldn't stand on the top step
barking--I'll put it this way, living in a room
two cellars down was good, I got to smell
the earth, I carried a long red wire down
with a bulb attached--after that it never mattered.

. . . . . . . .

Friends and Strangers, steal it if you can!

. . . . . . . .



Friends and Strangers,

why are poetry books getting so expensive lately? After a long recovery of an early summer surgery, I'm finally up and around and rebel. Last night, instead of working on a resume I fled the beaches and ended up in a bookstore. Simic, Salamun, Graham, Zagajewski, Stern. A small stack of new books I'd love to buy, except their all 24-26 bucks! Not a little annoying is the strange but lovely fact that Doty's new collected is only $23! I understand that books are business, but who's really buying these things but us poor, idiot poets? It's also frustrating that Barnes and Noble is selling nice collected editions of classics for ten bucks a pop. Isn't there something wrong here? I'm complaining because I'm poor, not because I don't know how to steal.

Speaking of which, I got my hands on a copy of Graywolf press' Re/View series edited by Mark Doty, the great gay guru of glam, newest re-release of the cult poet Thomas James' first and only volume, Letters to a Stranger.  In the introduction by Lucie Brock-Broido, she admits to her long obsession with the poet including both stealing his book from a library and stalking members of his family. Though yesterday I did pay for this edition, I also have a slender volume I unapologetically pilfered from my undergraduate library and I incant Yevtushenko's joy over boyhood's  stolen apples:

Let slander pursue me;
love isn't for the feeble.
The odor of love is the scent
not of bought but of stolen apples.

For the longest time, James has been one of those poets I refuse to share, because I loved his poems so intensely. Call me Golum, hunched over his preciouss, his secret love, glowing dark like a bird over the hot jewel of a small opened heart. He, like Sexton, killed himself the year I was born, 1974, and for that reason alone I felt drawn to him. The number of the rat year of my birth is a hushed magnet to me. Reading him is another experience altogether. This new edition includes 13 uncollected poems, and like Plath, who he's regularly compared to, I mourn his unwritten life. 

Here's one of them:


All morning I have been turning into jade.
Ambushing the semiprecious bone,
It takes me in my swivel-bed

Where I watch my toes go out one by one.
A Victorian lady changes the sheets every Sunday,
The pigeon-colored nurses leave me alone

With clouds fingerprinting on the grapeskin sky.
I nestle in these white, icy hillocks
As their razors clip me clean as a boy.

I am inattentive to their deepest looks.
Now I have whitewashed walls and a white pitcher,
Armloads of white, virginity that speaks.

Light blunders in rich and gold as beer
From a world where people wake and kiss,
Images shaken free on dark water.

I await the syringe, its needleful of brightness,
As my leg yields to a century of stone.
I am a fossil, hugging its dry rose.

I wake slowly, just at the outskirts of pain.
A light-winged lady rushes off into the dark,
Her beacon red as my garnet tiepin.

Nobody minds me at all now as I suck
Greedily at darkness, its flaky soot
Blown in at the window crack,

A mouthful of honey. Under my bedlight
I am a park statue, I am all verdigris,
Tenable as an old penny. Tonight

Nobody stops at the door. In the hospital garden
The moon rises like a white button out of a bed
Of brown chrysanthemums. Sickness

Begins to mount me like a bright counterpane,
Intractable and ripe as a middleaged bride,
And my head goes under. Dark is a sudden kiss. 

The poems speaks for itself, ripe imagery run on the currents of iambic pentameter and an enjambment that creates a locomotion fit for candled midnights. In James, sickness is beauty. Perhaps this most attracts me to him. The emblems of mortality are "semiprecious" and darkness is either "a mouthful of honey" or "a sudden kiss". Here is the young heart's romantic: death cloaked by moonlight, and love, "Virginity that speaks". It's as if he's permanently vulnerable, as if gangrene is the only way we are loved in this body. How else are we so held alone, in communion with bones and moons, or a light that "blunders in rich and gold as beer"? Who else has said, with such tender, if not criminal and childlike clarity: "I suck / greedily at darkness"? Who isn't a child of the darkness into which "a light-winged lady rushes off"? This is the comfort of such morbid work: it reminds us we are small. We are Children alone in the darkness of our own body. We are children of the moon, stealing beauty from the pain of being awake, turning our rotting flesh to "jade".  

 . . . . . .



Tosca. Before it's too late. 

Before dawn. Before the blue burn and guillotined shadow walks.

Before the fall of June. High summer.

How much we wanted our Soprano to suffer for her Art, to really break her fucking leg when the dress she wore leapt toward hell to fight forever

to slit his throat again
to be taken in his arms against her will
to be told it is the only way 
to save her only love, her life
to flee into exile like a dove into morning
to slit his throat instead
to weep dark song to fly
to bury her face into her own warm breast and weep
to hear his cries in the wine-dark room
to look into the face of the police detective to refuse
to see into his jealous heated sneer the sparks of lust and power
to know it won't be enough to die
to hear a choir in the darkness
to become a bit of light, jealous as a candle spending itself to death
to find out in the middle of your goodness your heart is dark and loud
to love until you become this music
to murder

And at dawn when you think your lives are saved 
they are in sweet jeopardy.

And at the moment you are free 
the gunshots blackening are real

And the song you sang with him
in the blue heat before dawn comes 
back to you now because memory 
it is both forever and never too

And you perish over his dead body 
And the mob comes
And you promise not to return but to descend
And you climb the wall 
And the firing squad lends you its permanence
And your last breath is this curse 

Enemies are love.

. . . . . . .



Friends and Strangers, 

I'm posting my review of Alex Lemon's new book, first published in the new Oranges & Sardines, a literary publication dedicated to the relationship between art and poetry. You can buy it on Amazon, where you can also buy Lemon's book. 

I'm a ferocious fan of his and hope you'll run out and steal a copy. 

The Amplification of Heaven: A Review of Hallelujah Blackout by Alex Lemon

Milkweek Editions, 2008     $15


Perhaps nowhere in recent American Poetry has a poet expressed such intense mortal anxiety toward nature as Theodore Roethke. Famously tormented by waters, darkness, the mulch of roots and leafy fetor, he nevertheless succeeded in what might be called a “spiritual” verse that faces the awful reality of our corporeal struggle. Alex Lemon’s newest collection Hallelujah Blackout finds kinship with Roethke’s troubled sensitivity to nature, the relationship between the body’s collapse and an ecstasy of the spirit, in which affliction is elation. If pain is the doorway to consciousness, Lemon remains manically awake, fixed on the wild inanity of all experiences Americana. Whether he’s taking a bath, watching the trees bleed a little light, or giving mouth to mouth, Lemon grapples the contradictions of our mortal nearness.


The terrible urgency of Lemon’s work is driven by excess. One gets the feeling that experience is too much, that the poet can’t fit it all in, that he’s in pain and love simultaneously every waking moment. When he’s successful, Lemon balances consumerism: “I wanted more malt liquor / Time. I wanted Pac-Man and Hot Tamales” with the sublime: “The drips. Of blessings, / Unwrapped & tossed. Faces sunsetting, / Blurred windows. The streaks. The blessings.” Indeed, experience itself is the addiction of this book in which hunger is both spiritual and capitalistic. “I won’t lie. My walls smell like meat” he writes in “The Night Diego Maradona Tried”, and later, “oh, how the last bite / of a Big Mac makes you want to slit throats.” Who can forget Roethke’s assertion, “my meat eats me”? “Addicted”, Lemon responds, “verging on mourning, / we hope this is not what it feels like to die”. He ravages the junk of contemporary American life, the “Deli sandwiches”, the “bullet-riddled minutes on Cops”, the “ruined, fizzless colas” and achieves a transformative ecstasy: “the beauty of this place bursting before / and behind and blueblack through my eyes.”


The speed of these poems results in purposefully inconsistent syntax, brilliant broken phrasing, kennings, imagery both grotesque and tender. “This / is what happens” writes Lemon, “when all you can remember / of language is grunt”. When the body is possessed of its own awareness, when it is caught between kiss and kill, violence and intimacy irreconcilably affect speech. Lemon finds his breath “hiving in air”, his “blueberry- bushed insides / are graveled with want”, and his “hands wolf”. The light around him is “burstswept”, the day is “cherry lipped”, he “sings nectar”, he “sings blossom” and the “plum-glut sky” opens, filled with “jeweled-lightning”. Caesura and ampersand further highlight the immediacy of Lemon’s voice, as it chances vulnerable into the world:


I go mercy faced            & everything to me whispers                        no biggie


            Motherfucker                        we’ll break you too

            Infested finally      & terrible       in the knuckle-branched black 


This is tireless work that struggles to weigh morbidity with spirit.  “Please someone” he pleads, “tell me how / much flesh can // be tolerated / day after day—”  Indeed, this book is ripe with imagery surrealist and unsightly: “In the rain a man / ducks into his coat like the split- // ribbed chest of a dead horse / swallowing a wet-cheeked boy”. Things gross: “I once pulled // all of my fingernails off with my father’s pliers . . . you should have seen that salad” make way for things elegant: “I’m not asking you what you know / About yourself, but what’s on / The face of the one who follows you / Around handing out pieces of darkness / As you plead with the trees.” Ultimately, the danger of the body is not absence, but presence. “It’s the kingdom” Lemon writes, “of wandering around / in the dark & roughhousing—” The body, then, capably tends toward violence and vulnerability the same, an attractive mortality that in Lemon’s poetry breaks through to something softer, something musical and abstract so that “above the streetlights hissing / awake down the block, a cello-soft / glow opens like veins through the spruce.”


In his famous villanelle, “The Waking”, Roethke wrote lines that seem to characterize Lemon’s predicament: “This shaking keeps me steady. I should know / What falls away is always. And is near.”  It is this nearness that troubles Lemon into contemplation of the body’s now: “You / should have seen the sweat of still-being-alive”. So the rant of experience in this poet’s work is a rant of praise in which a painful existence is beautiful, “the lightninged hall of kisses / in the ballady veins”. Lemon is a poet so filled with human sensitivity he cannot seem to decide if this existence is heaven or hell. “Here then is amplification” he quips, “the cold cold / ground is rawboned on fire”.  Painful but celebratory, never heavy or self-pitying, Lemon achieves a mania of voice that powerfully considers bodily death.  “I remember,” he writes about a dead swordfish in “Yet I Ride the Little Horse”, “the dead thing really / whispered something terrifically soft”. And in the long poem “Abracadaver” he balances affection with pain: “in a knifing away / of the skin / your kisses appear—”


So much unapologetic ecstasy (“Come with me tonight, my chocolate- / Smelling love. Let’s whip white-hot coat hangers around // Until someone loses an eye”) can be overwhelming in such a long book. Lemon is unrelenting. At a whopping 144 pages, over twice as long as most poetry books recently published, he’s worked a strange, energetic balance between two sequential longer poems and three sections (30 pages each) of more “standard-sized” poems. Readers might wonder if a book so large might be better focused, if as a collection this might be pared down to a more direct and forceful grouping of poems. If perhaps either long poem might itself be developed into a book length work. But they will find themselves grateful too, for what Lemon excitedly delivers in lines both memorable and meant to be savored.


Ultimately, the size of this book is indicative of Lemon’s project, which seems to insist that experience itself is big, extravagant, unbearable, amazing. “I cannot get my head around this impossible light” he writes. One has to admire this author’s restlessness. Lemon struggles to face each moment as it might reveal something transcendent, as if through so much bodily suffering we might achieve joy, and thereby justification for our troublesome fates. (“So let’s elasticate!” he shouts in mad reverie at a scorched marshmallow.) This is a small bible of torture by orgasm and readers will surely find themselves numbed fantastic, forced to stop in the middle of their lives and breathe quick, having known the repeated momentary disasters of a life they still don’t want to escape. 



There's a saw like an angry bird next door. Good morning. 

I'm drinking something black, with a little moon-blue packet poured in.

I'm listening to NPR, a week old "This American Life": Jerry Springer's first career as a Politician--a very successful: "Bobby Kennedy/Bill Clinton type". Until he paid for a hooker with a check. And learned how unforgiving the world is. And became filthy rich. That's the way the world is. Good men and women, desperate to contribute something meaningful, failed by our inability to imagine them as men and women. Why don't we want our politicians to be as deeply wounded in the night as we are?

I'm playing footsie with my little bird. He's still pretending to be a little black dog. 

This week on my iPod: new Mariah. She ain't no Elvis, she ain't no Madonna, but she's fun. Also: La Lupe: the Cuban salsera from the 60's/70's. Think dark hard duende, a rougher Celia Cruz. This girl's got a blade and a tattoo on the shoulder of every song.

Reading: That sexy black collected of Zbigniew Herbert. I have to say, he's not my favorite. I prefer Popa's collected. But he's got some haunting things happening. I'm only into his third book: Study of the Object.  I'm a bit bored. I'm wincing to say that. It's smart, quiet. I guess I want a bit more lightning. So far I've been in love with Hermes, Dog and Star, his second book, most. The prose poems at the end are haunting. I'm worried that it's my misreading of them that haunts me and not the actual poems. I keep reading through my own failure as a reader, which is to say, my own failure to imagine, to love something from inside, because of poems like this:


It was a bird, or rather a pitiful remnant of a bird, eaten away by parasites. Stripped of its feathers, its bluish skin shuddering with pain and disgust, it still tried to defend itself by picking with its beat at the white worms covering it in a milling mass.

I wrapped it in a handkerchief and took it to a naturalist I knew. He examined it for a moment, then said:

It's all right. The worms eating it carry parasites invisible to the eye, and in the cells of the parasites an intensified metabolic process is probably taking place. It is therefore a classic example of a closed system with an infinite particle of antagonistic interdependencies which are the condition for the equilibrium of the whole. Contrary to appearances what we see is a blushing fruit or if you like, the crimson rose of life.

We must see to it that the thick fabric of breathing and suffocation doesn't burst anywhere, because then we would witness something considerably worse than death and more terrifying than life.

I don't want to say too much. I'm just absorbing him. He's a dark prophet. He's a Moses who refuses to look into the burning tree. Because he already sees it in his head. What we know is this body in this life.

And life is strange. It's so much endearing flaw, cruel wonder, beautiful sickness, awesome mistake:



Friends and Strangers,

now features:

new artwork by Fortune Sitole

new poetry by Bob Hicok / Xochiquetzal Candelaria / Ryan Courtwright / 
Jeff Encke / Diana Park / Gail Wronsky

a postapocalyptic love song and a discussion on the Macaronic 
by Alberto Ríos


. . . . . . .



Speaking of in-flowering contradictions, identity politics, and fun, this morning I read this post, relating Jay Leno's recent interview of actor Ryan Phillipe and an answer from the gay public. 

Ryan Phillipe's earliest role as an actor was as a gay teenager on the daytime soap opera, One Life To Live. Here's an excerpt from Leno's interview:

JAY: Can you give me your gayest look? Say that — say that camera is Billy Bob — Billy Bob has just ridden in shirtless from Wyoming.

(Your sycophantic audience hoots with laughter at the idea of a strapping lad like Phillippe giving a “gay look.”)

PHILLIPPE: Wow. That is so something I don’t want to do.

Leno's "joke" is "funny" because it asks us to insist on a stereotype we intuitively recognize as taboo.  That is, we must accept the idea that "a gay" is a strange and social abnormality, sideshow, the man-woman, the midget, the bearded lady. The genetic mistake, an aberration with a personality. Now, I'm a great lover of freaks, and in some dark way I love the sideshow, because it is home to my longing. 

But it's also true that this kind of humor reinforces a faulty stereotype. It's anachronistic to think that gays have a "look" that is defining. Caricatures are identity too, but by nature they are reductive, satirical, misleading, false. What's dangerous about the Leno interview is that he forces Phillipe--and in this way the audience as well--into a precarious moment of decision. What is the "gayest look" and how does one make it? There is a violence committed here, that Biblical Gideonse points out, quoting playwright Jeff Whitty's letter to Leno on his blogpost: "would you ask a  guest to make their 'blackest face'? Their 'jewiest face'?"

I like Leno. I've watched the show and probably will again. He makes me laugh, and I understand that comedy is based on the jester's ability to insult the king with the knowledge of himself. But in our reductivist political climate, considering the not too distant memory of the Don Imus incident, it seems inappropriate to incite the harmfulness of a stereotype and then relieve us of the responsibility of saying, this is wrong. At the same time, if you watch the clip, it seems to me that part of the point of Leno's jab is aimed at the nature of television, and the curious job of the actor to present a "gay face" without having to actually present a gay person, which--thankfully!--Ryan Phillipe acknowledges by his refusal.

I don't think we should picket Leno. I don't think his intent was to bash gays. But we can think about the nature of the language used. It's the nature of a joke to trick us, to make us uncomfortable by revealing what's underneath the mask of social etiquette. It's the shock of knowing ourselves as we are that is so funny. We are our best deceivers, psychic tricksters, psycho-comediennes. We should ask ourselves about this instance, What is being assumed for us, and What kind of trick does the language of Leno's "joke" play on us? As a nation, we should ask ourselves what joke television plays on us with its caricaturesque cast types. As gays, our ability to laugh at ourselves is important, but in this case, like Phillipe, we ought to remember that the stereotype amounts to an accusation of cruel inferiority.

A friend of mine who designs toys at Mattel recently told me that in a meeting one of his peers referred to a toy design by saying, "that's gay." Someone spoke back: "Gay as in creative, smart, well-designed?" No. Gay as in inferior, mis-shapen, deformed, and, with old misogyny, effeminate. We often forget the layer of sexism inherent to this trendy insult.

In response to Whitty's letter, this website was started to showcase the simple fact that we--gays, strangers, friends and family--acknowledge that stereotype is a caricature of the many-faced beast of us. It's wrong to assume your face doesn't belong here too. In the end, I'd say, this is fun!--I'm prancing! I'm butch! and mostly, I love Leno for this opportunity to post a picture of myself kissing my own middle finger to the sky.

Friends and Strangers, here I am saying it. American Me. Again. Wearing Whitman:

Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large. I contain multitudes.

My photo
I've got one foot in the grave and the other's in my mouth.

Poetry Disclaimer

My work has been awarded the Katherine C. Turner Prize from the Academy of American Poets, a Swarthout Award, and has twice been nominated and shortlisted for the Pushcart Prize. My first book, A Book Called Rats, was selected for the Blue Lynx Prize for Poetry (Eastern Washington University Press 2007). I'm curating editor for the online journal of poetry: PISTOLA and my poems and reviews most recently appear in Massachusetts Review, Beloit, Ploughshares and RAIN TAXI. I currently teach writing and literature at Santa Monica College in southern California.