Ourselves

Between

the crumbling, ancient, reddening brick,

forever sunsets,

and the birdswell calls

of pier-bound estuary and the fog of night,

lie mist-haunts – cat-filled, soot-fall lanes –

where all our deepest dreams

fulfill the ink-dark nooks;

and all our incantations

are inscribed upon the walls.

 

Here, our restless, writhing ghosts

(in shape like dogs, or jackals

from the screaming coals

and panicked embers of the night)

all coalesce, and roam

the lost, enchanted streets

until they grow intention-bound;

and then, they turn (for seconds only,

or in lifelong gulps) to us, enraged

to find their formlessness ensouled…

 

This was at one time iambic pentameter, but I’ve broken it, as the needs of the poem outpaced the need for formal rhythm. Here’s a sample from an earlier version, when it was in iambs:

Between the still and ancient reddening brick,

forever sunsets, and the birdswell calls

of pier-bound estuary and the fog

of night, lie mist-filled, cat-haunt, soot-fall lanes –

lie all our deepest dreams and ink-dark nooks,

and incantations scribed upon the walls.

 

In this case, I think I introduced meter and rhythm too early, and it inhibited the formation of the poem’s content, so I had to abandon the music to discover the meaning. Perhaps we’ll revisit this poem sometime and reimpose the blank verse structure it once possessed.

Dating for this poem is uncertain; it first appears in my pen journal for 2010, but the page, for some reason, has two dates on it. Here’s the original (as best as I can determine) transcribed from my pen journal:

Between the still and ancient reddening brick

forever sunsets and the birdswell call

of pier-bound estuary and the fog

of night lie all our cat-haunt soot-fall alleys

and our deepest dreams, our ink-dark nooks,

our incantations scribed upon the walls,

and restless, writhings in the shapes of dogs

will coalesce, become intention-bound,

become for moments at a time, ourselves

 

 

The Sweet Sticky Smell of Mabon

Autumnal Equinox? Mabon? Again? Jeepers – it’s like, every year, right? Here we were in 2013, here we were in 2014, here we are in 2015… if I didn’t know how random the world is, I might make a case for some kind of pattern, here…

So, over the years I’ve had a lot to say about Mabon, some of it very repetitive, but still kind of interesting, in an obsessive, nerdy Neopagan kind of way; but is there anything we can distill from all this blather? Some essence of Mabon we can bottle up and periodically dab behind our ears and on our wrists?

The Sweet Sticky Smell of Late Summer

 

everything is resinous

even the flies

and the leaves have acquired a dusty tone

the cat's fur isn't getting any thicker

but it wants to

and so do I

I am ready

for cups of hot tea on cold mornings

for frost on the fallen leaves

for thoughts of eternity as the equinox rolls around

tell me you have not forgotten

tell me you still hold me dear

I will never hear you of course

but from whatever far shore you know

tell me

tell me

tell me

 

That will just have to do…

 

Pirate ABC’s

Today is "International Talk Like A Pirate Day", a holiday of breathtaking worthlessness, from one point of view. Here we are together in a world brimming with horror amid opportunities for bounty, and instead of addressing what confronts us, as caregivers to our only planet, we walk around saying "Arr Matey". Could any behavior be more irresponsible?

Right?

Which of course gets our motor revving, after which, we could spend entire days fulminating against everything from trucker caps to the Emmys.

Right?

Nothing justifies hilarity, ever. The world is always a dark and forbidding fate, and we always end up dead – how dare we laugh.

It’s right to think this way… except for how wrong it is.

We can’t be "on" all the time, we can’t dwell perpetually in the twilight of our insecurities, and sometimes we have to act like ludicrous assholes in order to remember that we’re more than that, from the day we’re born to the day we die, and maybe longer – who the fuck knows?

So fuck the Puritan moralizing about all the starving children and threatened rights, the fear-filled panegyrics informing us about how sad we should be all the time… fuck it all, if only for a day.

I, for example, spend unconscionable amounts of time writing poetry. How that’s gonna save the whales, I do not know. And then, there are these exercises, which I justify in a number of ways, when in truth, they need no more justification than a flower:

Aarr, Bosun – come down ‘ere, ‘fore going home;

intently jaw Killarney lingo.

My nightly opinion prating,

quicksilver rills, soaking, turn-by-turn,

underlying visions, while X-coriating your Zenobia.

 

Right? Now just to rub it in, let’s have another:

Apparitions build centrifugal deliberations:

egg-like,

fulsomely gathering hardheadedness

into jealous Kleenex;

leaning mustily near

opposite proprietarily quiescent rain.

 

Sadly, they unplug virtual worlds,

X-ploding your zucchini.

 

It always feels like a failure, when I’m forced to invoke the "X" rule to complete an ABC constraint sentence, but there are so few useful words that begin with the letter
"X".

Conception, I think, is almost never the hardest part of creation. Conception is the fun part; realization is much harder – it demands so much patience.

Worst of all is finalization. That’s the hardest part of all, because it demands faith; it demands you imagine that some creation of yours is fully, completely finished.

Completion is a kind of death, isn’t it.

Then again, death just might be too good for a construction like the one above…

 

Brush Lightly

Verse chords:

C   am  |  C   G   |  am  em  |  F   G

C   am  |  C   G   |  am  G   |  F   G

 

Chorus chords:

am  |  em  |  am  |  G

am  |  em  |  F   |  C   |  G   G7

 

Verse 1:

C                           am

I have loved you from the beginning

C                            G

I'll love you through to the end. They say that

am                  em

time can never lose time; my

F                      G

heart will always hold you.

 

C                          am

How it is we're here and together, is

C                         G

how we came to be here at all. They say that

am                  G

space is not just a place; my

F                      G

heart will always hold you

 

Chorus:

am                em

In a dream world, in a dream I

am                 G

run to you and you enfold me in your arms but

am              em

When I wake up, you are there and

F                

all the hold of  

C               

all the world is

G                 G7

all laid bare. . .

 

Break: Verse chords

 

Verse 2:

C                          am

I have known you from my beginning

C                            G

You have known me since ever when. The truth of

am                 em

life is that it is life, filled with

F                     G

hearts so like me and you.

 

C                             am

What will come true now we surrender, is

C                            G

what has come true again and again:

am                   G

Reach has always met touch – my

F                    

heart will always. . .

 

Outro:

 

—–4——4——4—–2–2—–

||:  am  |  am  |  C  |  C  G  :||

            Hold   you. . . (repeat ad nauseam)

 

 

Assembling Under The Full Moon

Full Moon tonight. The Corn Moon, the Barley Moon, the deep-colored sunset big as a cart wheel Harvest Moon…

Assemble Themselves

 

Another end of Summer –

you feel three skeins dead

and know it’s true.

 

The leaves are all fat

and half are half-eaten

and the tomato worms

loll about amid the vegetables,

plump as plums

and lazy as calico cats

in afternoon sun.

 

Evil is coming,

sighs the voice of the sky,

but for now,

you can put the thought by;

you can imagine

as you recognize

the full harvest moon,

lovely in its pert,

crystalline purple-blue

fading to magenta to red

end-of-season outfit,

hovering

like a lovely mad dream

above the cloud castles

that are building themselves

distantly,

impossibly,

turret on turret

and wall above moonlit-tinged white wall.

 

New worlds are forming,

assembling above your unbelieving eyes.

 

End of Summer again,

and it seems

there have been many such;

but never has the starlight

and moonlight

seemed this rich…

 

 

The Golden Fleece (Part 4)

Read The Golden Fleece Part One, The Golden Fleece Part Two, and The Golden Fleece Part Three, to understand what’s going on here.

"Come on," said Jason one day, maybe three months after I started working for him. He was standing in the door to the second floor offices, where all us computer people hung out.

"Come on?" I asked.

"Ride," he said. "Someone you got to meet."

"Who?" I asked.

"Zeetz," he said.

"That doesn’t explain anything," I told him, as I grabbed my shoulderbag and followed him downstairs.

"You’ll see," Jason said. We climbed in the back of his limo. Big Neelie nodded at me. His name was Neleus but everyone called him Big Neelie.

"Hey Big Neelie."

"Hey Clicker." I never figured out why Big Neelie called me "Clicker" – the console keyboards we used back then were loud – like, really loud; maybe he called me that because I was always tapping on a computer keyboard? He always refused to explain, but always smiled when he did, which made it sort of okay.

Big Neelie was once a linebacker but he’d spent all his game cash and ended up working for Jason. Driver and bodyguard, and occasional partner in crime or debauchery, although Big Neelie’s tastes were vanilla, compared to Jason.

"So?" I asked, once we settled into the back seat and Big Neelie put us on the 405 headed north. We were each puffing on one of Jason’s awful cheroots (which I learned to love, after a while), and Jason didn’t want to roll down the windows because of the AC, so it was pretty thick in there.

"Jason?" I pushed.

"There isn’t any good way to explain Zeetz," he finally said. "You just have to see." But he tried anyway, on that short limo ride, to give me the highlights.

"Oldest guy in the business," he said, and stopped. "Ugly," he added.

"I’m ugly too," I said.

"No," Jason said. "You’re cookie cutter ugly. Zeetz is a work of art."

Big Neelie chortled and nodded. "Looks like he put on a sharkskin suit, you don’t know where the sleeves end and the arms begin."

"Weird," I said. What else could I say?

"You got no idea," Jason said. "Also?"

I waited. Then I prodded. "Also…" Jason could sometimes talk in exasperatingly broken sentences.

"He’s rich. Not "wealthy". Not "well-off", not "comfortable". He’s rich. Understand? Like Midas. People in that bracket, they aren’t quite like humans. Could buy California. But he’s more likely to buy some guys to cut your heart out, if you cross him."

"Ouch."

"Don’t be flip," Jason said. "and don’t cross him. You’ll fuck me up bigtime if you do."

"Not to mention yourself," Big Neelie said. He raised his eyebrows and shook his head. For the first time I felt a little chill.

"So why you taking me to meet this guy?" I asked. "I mean, if it’s such a fucking risk?"

"I’m not taking you," Jason said. "Zeetz heard about you. Asked me to bring you around."

That shut me up for a while.

"Is this an ‘oh fuck’ moment?" I finally asked.

"You might say that." The look on Jason’s face was not encouraging. "You know how sometimes, even nice people can’t resist hurting someone, right? Being a bully? To abuse their kids or their neighbors?"

"Scuse me?" This was a weird tangent.

"Zeetz isn’t like that. There’s no ‘nice guy’ here. Hurting people is an avocation. You getting this? His hobby. Chief pleasure."

"Great," I said. "Anything I shouldn’t do or say? Anything I need to watch out for?"

"Everything," said Big Neelie.

"Just be respectful," Jason told me. "He’ll push on you, and you can’t cave, or he’ll feed you to the coyotes in Topanga. But you gotta be respectful. And not just because of the stories about him riding people out to Death Valley. Guy has juice that could make us…"

Jason stopped talking and I saw he was getting off on the dreams in his head. It was a while before he came back and finished his sentence. "Could make us like him," he ended.

That was worth a shudder or two.

We pulled up at a weird little 1950s-looking pink stucco house twenty minutes later, somewhere in Encino, I think, although to tell the truth I had not been watching the scenery; I had been deep in thought.

"Is this guy connected?" I asked, as we turned into the driveway.

"Jesus," said Big Neelie, laughing again.

"How come you smart guys are so clueless?" Jason asked.

"How come you type-A guys are always so exasperated?" I asked back. "Why’d he want to meet me anyway? What did he hear?"

"He’s curious about computers," Jason said. I noticed both he and Big Neelie had shrugged out of their shoulder holsters at some point. Jason’s big .44 mag was lying on the seat.

"You guys? Don’t you feel naked? No guns?"

"Not for us, anyway," Big Neelie said.

The door opened before we reached it. I noticed it was steel. I also noticed the windows were shuttered, and that the slats – which looked from the outside like louvred wood – were also steel.

I wondered what the walls were made of; I thought I could guess.

"Zeetz" was what everyone called him, – except to his face. His name was really spelled Zetes and he insisted it be pronounced in the old Greek way: "Zeh-tees". He hated the name "Zeetz". People who’d slipped and called him that to his face had a habit of going away on long vacations (or else making dietary contributions to the wild creatures in Topanga); an angry Zeetz was not a comical Zeetz.

Zeetz was a very tough guy with a very limited emotional repertoire who’d spent a long lifetime making sure everyone knew just how tough he was. He was the meanest motherfucker I ever met, still, to this day. I’m pretty sure that there was a different, hidden Zeetz, who felt he was a piece of shit, and was trying to make sure no one knew. Someone with poor impulse control – a Dad? a Mom? – had warped little boy Zeetz – made him a punching bag. Zeetz spent his life either proving them wrong, or hiding that they were right.

It was dark inside the house, once the door shut behind us. Later, I figured out that the light levels in that foyer were intentional. Anyone coming in off the street during the day would be almost blind; at night, powerful spotlights positioning on both sides of the door at eye-level resulted in the same effect. No one visited Zeetz unless they were incapacitated and checked over.

"Welcome, gentlemen," said a big deep voice. "Step this way please." A light – a nice, normal light – came on in a small room to our left, and we shuffled in, blinking.

"Hey Moon," said Big Neelie to the guy with the voice. A big man – a really big man, bigger than Big Neelie – nodded, and gestured. Big Neelie and Jason knew the drill, and raised their arms, and I followed a second later, and we were frisked. I have never been so carefully examined outside of a proctologist’s office.

"John? Jason? If you’d wait in the rec room?" Said Moon, nodding at a door opposite the one we’d entered. My partners left; the rec room looked nice – I would have liked visiting the rec room. Instead I looked at Moon, waiting for direction. He finally looked at me, after the rec room door closed, and I heard electronic bolts thudding in the walls.

"This way, please," he said. I followed him, back into the foyer and down a long passage to the back of the house, into a homey-looking kitchen, of all things. Whoever Moon was, he was like Big Neelie, but… more.

"Sir?" Said Moon. "Your guest has arrived."

That was when I noticed the skinny little guy scrunched up on a bar stool at the end of the kitchen counter. His head was lowered over his hands, which held a small glass of something reddish-amber colored. He looked at me. I think he smiled, but there wasn’t really any way to tell.

Jason and Big Neelie had said Zeetz was ugly. What they hadn’t said was why, and I had figured he was fat, or had an eye in the middle of his forehead – or both, maybe – at least something… human. But Zeetz wasn’t any of these things. Zeetz looked like somebody had spent a few hours going over him with a weedwhacker, or a blowtorch; then they’d let him heal for a few days, and done it all over again.

And again.

I gulped. He noticed.

"What?" He said. "They didn’t tell you?"

"I think they tried," I said. My voice sort of croaked, because under my wave of horror at his condition, I could still feel it: this tiny, fucked up guy had power, and didn’t give two fucks about me.

"I guess they didn’t do such a good job," he said.

"I apologize sir. It’s shocking."

Plus – he was wearing sharkskin, and I really couldn’t tell where the suit ended.

"I see you’re one of them honest guys," he said. "I known a lot of that kind of guy. Not so much any more."

"I’m here because you asked me, sir. I’m not gonna pretend, but I’m not gonna offend, either – not on purpose. I’ll apologize again if it helps, and then I’m at your service."

"That’s nice. I guess they did explain some things right, huh? What did they tell you?"

"They told me you were the richest, toughest, meanest son of a bitch in California, and that if I looked cross-eyed at you, you’d have somebody tear my heart out. They also said you were curious about computers, so if there’s anything I can help you with-"

"Computers? I hate those fucking things."

That shut me up.

"Follow me," he said. He slid down off the bar stool and limped across the kitchen to a nicely done wall of French doors.

We passed through. Outside was a greenery shaded patio, shielded from the world by high sandstone walls topped with razor wire. Deep in the shade was a little table, and a little kid, and a Commodore 64, the first stop machine for many a programmer, back then.

"Theseus," said Zeetz.

"Pappouli!" Said Theseus, his face all welcoming smiles.

Zeetz introduced me to his grandson. "He’s been having trouble with this thing," he said, gesturing at the Commodore.

"What’s the problem?" I asked, swinging around one of the miniature chairs and sitting down next to Theseus.

"This game won’t run," he said, searching my face. He gave me a much sharper and more aware look than I had expected from a kid his age, and I realized he actually wasn’t really a kid his age.

He knows who his Pappouli is, I thought.

I popped the disk out of the drive: Zak McKracken. A funny game – I had a copy myself. The disk looked okay. The Commodore was showing it’s usual prompt.

"You tried the LOAD command?"

"It says to press ‘play’ when I do. I don’t know what that means."

"Ah," I said. "Did you have a tape drive before this? Or a cartridge system?"

"Uh-huh."

"It’s different with the disk drive."

I typed LOAD”*”,8,1, and after the usual hesitation, the opening game screen appeared. Theseus gave a little shriek of joy, and I felt Zeetz behind me, relaxing. Maybe I wasn’t taking a ride to Topanga or Death Valley that day after all.

"You stay with him until he’s happy," Zeetz said, giving my shoulder a squeeze. "I’m gonna go talk to your boss."

Later – in the limo on the way back to LA, Jason gave my shoulder a similar squeeze.

"Good work," he said.

"The fuck does that mean?" I asked. "I just taught his kid how to load from his new disk drive. Tried to keep my teeth from chattering."

"Like I said." He sighed and relaxed back into the seat for a minute, and then began shrugging back into his shoulder harness.

"Zeetz scare you, huh?" Asked Big Neelie.

"Fuck yeah," I said. "But not like ‘tear my heart out’ scare. It’s just-"

"You felt it."

"Yeah – whatever ‘it’ is. Rolling off him like cold off a mountain. I’m glad that’s over."

"Not over," said Jason.

"Huh?"

"He wants you back there. Once a week, or whenever he calls for you. He loves that kid."

"No way. I’m outta town before I go back there. I’d rather sell shoes in my hometown department store than go back there. Guy is seriously scary. What the fuck happened to him? Why’d you let me go in there not knowing what to expect?"

"Waddya mean? Told you he was art-house ugly."

"Yeah, but you didn’t tell me it was because someone skinned him alive with a butter knife – twice – and he was too mean to die. I went in expecting ‘toad’, and I got ‘Grand Guignol’."

"Details," said Jason, waving a vague hand.

"You were right about the sharkskin thing, Big Neelie. I couldn’t tell."

"What I said," he nodded. We were cruising past Topanga then, cutting through the hills between Encino and LA, and this time I noticed the scenery. Topanga can be pretty when it isn’t too dry.

Then I remembered the coyotes, and shuddered.

"You cut out now, he’ll still find you," Jason said, maybe guessing what I was thinking. "Or find your family."

"Hell with my family," I said. "I hate my family."

Jason said nothing. I grabbed one of his cheroots and stared out the window for awhile.

"This is fucked up."

"Got that right," he agreed. "But it’s a nice pay bump for you."

"What’s that?" I asked. "What did you say?"

"Zeetz is matching your weekly payday."

"My pay just doubled? Really?"

"Well – no. You’ll be working one day a week less for me…"

"Hell with that – you got me into this, bragging my skills around – I told you keep your mouth shut."

Jason shrugged. "We’ll see."

"We sure as hell will. If I’m risking the Topanga coyotes once a week, or ‘whenever Zeetz asks for me’, that means you’re picking up serious juice, just like you said."

"Maybe." He waved that hand again.

"You get a percent for being the guy who knew the guy, right? And you think you’re docking my pay? Think again." Jason was definitely gonna pay for this.

Big Neelie laughed.

 

Potatoes

At some point, you fear, you will tire of potatoes. But your choices are limited, so even though you know you are pushing some sort of conceptual envelope, you continue eating potatoes. You eat them every day, in spite of your growing sense of disaster.

Fried potatoes, baked potatoes, microwave potatoes, potato soup, potato patties, potato salad.

One day, as you are preparing your next helping of potatoes you realize that your fears are groundless – how could one ever tire of potatoes? Potatoes are the perfect food. They are in fact a perfect metaphor for life. They are in every way an ideal that more people should emulate. When we are at our best, we are potatoes…

You wake a few hours later on the floor. There is a potato peeler shaped like a rooster in your hand, and you are littered with potato droppings. You feel cheap and used, and understand that all the potato metaphors were simply delusions. You abandon your plans for the coffee table book about potatoes, even though you ruefully recall that you have almost filled an entire terabyte hard drive with digital photographs of potatoes in all their variety, cooked and uncooked.

A few hours later you are out the door, looking for something, anything, to eat…

Without realizing how you have done what you have done, you find yourself home a few hours later, with a bag of discount potato chips in one hand and a potato peeler shaped like Zsa Zsa Gabor in the other… the chips – they are so beautiful…

You reach for your digital camera…

 

Redneck

I got rough hands –

I ain’t no faint.

Hard as Arkansas stone;

solid right to the bone.

 

I swagger and chug,

take my lady out to cut the rug,

I got hard feet,

I got feet of clay.

 

You try to take me for a swell,

bid your loved ones farewell.

I eat nails for lunch,

I run with the toughest of the tough bunch.

 

I got teeth like knives;

I got hard grinders too.

I wear bib overalls,

I don’t do pratfalls.

 

I got straw in my hair,

sit by the potbelly stove and jaw,

go to the county fair.

 

I got all good things.

I’m a man’s best man.

I’m muscle from head to toe,

muscle inside my head too dontcha know…

 

I think everything like me is justokay.

If you ain’t like me

then there’s nothing to say,

but I got rough hands;

 

I got hard feet and teeth like knives;

I got all good things.

All good things.

All good things.

 

The first draft of this bit of doggerel/song appears in my 1976 pen-journal, written some time after an unfortunate encounter with a gaggle of NYC construction workers – hard-hat thugs with an avocation of beating on hippies for Jeebus and the flag and freedom.

1976 – the Bicentennial! All that fulsome, self-congratulatory, obligatory jingoism! Those were the days: the Ford and Carter Presidencies, suddenly affordable digital calculators, cheap cocaine, disco, and the first ineffectual fumblings toward sanity after Watergate and the Arab oil embargo; fumblings that would be scotched a few years later by that reactionary asshole Ronnie Raygun.

The USA spent more than thirty years dealing with the aftereffects of the “Reagan Revolution”, and is only now, since Obama’s election, beginning to recover. Hopefully there’s still time to save the planet, but if there isn’t… well, we can thank those wonderful people who brought us a second rate washed up actor, struggling incompetently to do his manful best in his role as "President". For all thinking humans, it certainly was "Mourning In America" following his inaugural. Believe me – the right-wing nut jobs got that slogan, spot-on.

The Republicans sure haven’t gotten much else right, though.

I recall thinking, even as far back as when Nixon was elected the second time, that things had to get better; that we couldn’t do worse than a crooked, sweaty, used car salesman as President.

Then Reagan was elected. That time, I was sure the Republicans had finally hit bottom – that our situation couldn’t get worse than being led by a doddering, animatronic puppet with greasy, oddly pyramidal hair, propped up in front of the lights and cameras by a recidivist rogue’s gallery of rapine and robbery.

Then George Dubya was elected. I was in shock, unable to believe that a separated-at-birth clone of Alfred E. Neuman was leading the free world.

Once again, I was sure the right wingers were finally scraping the nether regions of that proverbial barrel – that they couldn’t possibly come up with anyone worse…

Then… Trump.

Let me tell you – I’m a New Yorker, and we lived with this clown for decades. New Yorkers know: assholishness doesn’t get purer than the Donald, the Donster, the Donnybrook, Mister Hair himself, the epitome of crass stupidity and tastelessness.

At least Bush was feckless; Trump is actively evil.

If the Republicans had deliberately sought out an ill-intentioned buffoon to make Bush-league Georgie Dubya look good, they couldn’t have picked better. Donny Trump, the punchline to every bitter joke – the worst ever. The worst possible. Right?

Right?

Please, let me be right. Please, let this be their worst. Because what if I’m wrong? Think about that: what if I’m wrong?

After all – I’ve been wrong every time, when I thought they’d hit bottom. The conservatives have managed to out-do themselves again and again across a dozen elections: Nixon, Reagan, Bush II, Trump: we’ve gone from criminal competence, to ignorant incompetence, to utterly inept incompetence, to willful, wallowing incompetence – all in just a few decades. What if – in an election cycle or two – they actually nominate someone even worse? What would that look like?

Imagine that, if you don’t mind peering into the darkest regions of the human soul: worse than Donald Trump.

Who could it be? Mecha-Vlad the Impaler? Zombie Stalin? Pennywise the Clown?

My god, just think of the possibilities. Think – Louie Gohmert?!?

The mind boggles.