31 December 2012

Lost at Sea

USS Orizaba leaving NY for France during WWI 1918
The Orizaba was built in 1917 by William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Company of Philadelphia, PA. It served in WWI and WWII. Named for Orizaba, Varcruz the name means 'valley of happiness'.

From 1921-1939 she sailed the New York-Cuba-Mexico route for the Ward Line.

In 1931 Hart Crane went to Mexico on a Guggenheim Fellowship. He would remain there until April 1932, when her would take the Orizaba with the intention of going back to New York.

Hart Crane is a distinct New York poet. He is hailed and derided as the ultimate in Modernist poetry.

He lived in Brooklyn Heights in the late 1920s with his boyfriend. The view of the Brooklyn Bridge filled him with hope and awe. In response, he began to write a rebuttal to T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, what would become The Bridge. A view that I have been inspired by many times. Will always inspire.

That poem, transcendent and strange, was received poorly when it was published in 1930 by Black Sun Press. Even today its place in our American 'canon' is often questioned.

The poem is about progress. A new, bright, American future. The 'great war' was over and America had come out strong and vital. The bridge was the ultimate symbol of that achievement. The growing pains were through, America was a grown-up country.

In 2006 Hart Crane: Complete Poems and Selected Letters was published. Writing in The New Yorker, Adam Kirsch called The Bridge 'an impressive failure. . .[that] varies wildly in quality, containing some of Crane’s best writing and some of his worst.'

I can't say I disagree. While I find the poem beautiful, it definitely leaves me with a sense of open-endedness. A sense that it was never fully realized. Sections of it crumble in your hands in a way Eliot never does. Perhaps it mirrors the fragility of its time. The 1930s were hardly the gold-coated promised land that people thought they would be.

It uplifts, but it feels ephemeral.

Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry does a better job capturing a future bright with promise. I suspect that Crane's is a personal triumph. He was living with his lover, he woke to the bridge. It was a far cry from his Christian Scientist upbringing in Ohio. It was glorious. Understandably.

That it doesn't quite connect into a metaphor for the future America makes sense. There was another war on the horizon. A Great Depression.

And like Mishima, and countless other people around the world, homosexuality was also a dark spot. The reveling is magnificent, but the realities of the world find a way to enter back in.

At around noon on 27 April 1932, while the Orizaba was 275 miles north of Havana and 10 miles off the Florida coast -

This is familiar territory. The night before Hart Crane had hit on a crewman of the ship. Had been attacked. Had been humiliated. Crane, in pajamas and an overcoat, shows up on the rear deck. He was drunk. Had been drunk for years. He climbed the railing and maybe even said goodbye, then fell into the cold water. For two hours lifeboats searched. His body was never found.

Like Mishima, Crane had a clear love of aesthetic. He was a romantic. He was a visionary. He claimed that he saw the future. That it was bright. Like Mishima, he took a female lover, Peggy Cowley, who was the inspiration for The Broken Tower.

The two are vastly different. They are not parallels. But the closeted world of gay men in the history of the world is full of similar tales. Of elaborate 'masks' of the failed pick-up. Of the beatings and then the suicides.

The Brazilian navy took over the boat  that was called the Orizaba in 1945, renaming her Duque de Caxis. The boat was scrapped in 1963.

A counterpoint:
In 1934 Katherine Hepburn took a trip to Mérida, Yucatán. Once there she filed for divorce from her husband of 6 years, Ludlow Ogden Smith. She then vacationed in Havana and went home.

I don't add this as a comment on heterosexual marriages. How they are easy to enter/exit. I add it as an example of the intersections of lives/loves and how these dramas play out on similar stages.

28 December 2012

Confessions of a Mask

To the left is Yukio Mishima. He is considered one of the most important Japanese authors of the 20th century. Nominated three times for the Nobel. He was an author, poet, playwright, actor, and director.

Mishima was born in 1925 and died in 1970, aged 45.

He was committed to bushido, the samurai code, and fancied himself a modern vision of that tradition. His writing is full of this 'chivalry' code, as well as death and sex.

Due to the following of the code, Mishima was incredibly fit. Which is putting it mildly.

He is remembered for his writing, his obsession with anachronistic concepts of manhood, and his death. He and four other men staged a coup attempt on November 25, 1970. After locking themselves in a government office Mishima delivered a speech to the army below. They mocked him. He went back into the room and committed seppuku, ritual suicide.

The obsession with death played out in his books. Specifically, Confessions of a Mask (1949).

In that book we follow a young boy who feels 'different' from childhood to his early 20s. The book is told as interior monologue. We are given the boys thoughts on life and his friends and family.
Mostly we are told that he loves suffering. The closer to being noble, or pure, the better. He also talks at length of masturbation, his 'habit'. And that he seems to only find working class men attractive. An early scene has him watching a man taking away bails of human waste. The boy becomes obsessed with the man's pants and white shirt. With the stink of work. Of sweaty bodies.

Later the boy finds a painting of Saint Sebastian by Guido Reni and basically falls in love with the image.

Mishima's book is called a novel. It is called an autobiographical novel. But I'm pretty sure it is as close to memoir as you can get. He was known to frequent gay bars, his wife was aware of it. His family sued to stop Jiro Fukushima publishing letters between the two authors of their affair. And there's this photo, part of a set, of Mishima taken before the coup attempt.

I'm not saying that posing as St. Sebastian makes you gay, but it certainly draws a thicker line between the author and his character.

Rumors swirl that the coup was an elaborate performance on Mishima's part. That it had been planned for years as a sort of perfect, beautiful, tragic finale. All through Confessions the character discusses his eventual death. Always at a young age, always dramatic. When it doesn't come, he starts to shut off his emotions. To form the 'mask' of the title.

After a failed visit to a brothel he finds himself at a party staring at the white thigh of a woman:

"...I was struck by the astringent pain that come from staring too long at something. The pain proclaimed: You're not human. You're a being who is incapable of social intercourse. You're nothing but a creature, non-human and somehow strangely pathetic."

Going from the book a portrait rises of a man who created his own cage. Afraid to exist, and concerned with 'correctness' to a degree that he beat bordered on obsessive he became a caricature of a man. Physically fit, adhering to a romantic ideal that never existed, and dying tragically.

The closet as performance. Society as stage.

26 December 2012



Here is a room

Taken up
          bit by board

Piled in the back yard

Behind a chain
          a lock a broken fence

Until the room


And the lights come on

24 December 2012

Christmas Wish 2012

Christmas Wish 2012

I want a talking dog

That said
          I know that this is impossible          that

the universe has yet to
turn that thing out          I will settle

for a run-of-the-mill hound

          to walk in the woods
to fetch
                    to roll over etc.


I will not bend on wanting a cat
who can make an omelette

21 December 2012

Poem For The End of The World

Poem For The End of The World

I tear up
                    but that is not true

I pull the shirt over my head as always
put my pants on
both legs at the same time

Outside it is 10 degrees there is a car idling

Severe clear sky
                    but I have told you nothing
of the pack of coyotes that stared in my window
we made eye contact they were large amber pools
they were hungry and cold and that glass

was so thin

I tear up
                    and it is because of the cold

I send the scraper over the windshield
gloved hands to the wheel
10 and 2

I turn the wheel

and it makes the sound of nails of board

19 December 2012


First off, over here, Eric Forbes gives us a list of books to look forward to in 2013.

Last year I did a run down of what I read, how I liked it, etc. This year I don't have a list for you. Sorry, I didn't keep track. And I moved.

But! I have started to write posts about books I have been reading. I will continue that as long as I can discuss them in some broader context and by the end of 2013 we'll have a list of things I read without even trying!

Upon moving back to Santa Fe I have reconnected with old friends and places. I have been going to poetry readings and art openings. I have been at cocktail parties and, in general, been a real boy. A friend of mine had recently read David Ferry's Bewilderment. She recommended it, with a caveat:

Take it as a whole work.

The book is in sections. Each has a clear tone and arc to it. Each is a mix of poems and translations. The translations range from Virgil to Rilke to Cavafy to Horace. The connecting theme is one of time, and old age.

Ferry is 88. It is not my place to say that he is thinking about endings. But.

Aunt Nellie's picture was in the paper once,
Triumphantly posing with a large bottle,

Black widow spiders inside looking out,
As conscious as fireflies of their situation.

Are we conscious of our situation? That is the question I took away from Ferry's book. I write about decay in my own poetry. I have been obsessed with the idea of entropy for years. But am I conscious of being in the jar?

So the 'jar' is life itself. The fact that we are born and begin to fall apart immediately. Cell walls start to break down, chemicals begin their depletion, etc. etc. etc.

That word, etc., is a good example of the jar. It is such a small word, a placeholder really. But it contains multitudes of the unspeakable.

If we follow that train of thought a bit, we arrive at all language being mere placeholders for the things we are really trying to say. 'Apples' is not the actual fruit. Shine or no shine. Red or green. All of it, placeholders.

And Ferry seems to be pointing out that his words are merely newer versions of the old. The translations bleeding into his poems and his poems informing the depth of the old. And they all speak with the same voice across time. We are merely the same. Placeholding away.

17 December 2012

Dust Jacket : In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood (Vintage)
Designed by: Megan Wilson
Photo: William Eggleston

Megan Wilson is an associate art director at Vintage/Random House. She's been there for 20 years. She runs a blog and store called Ancient Industries that aesthetically connects to her beautiful covers.

There is a sense of the 1950s. Enameled pots and crisp aprons. Small flowers in vases. White gloves.

It is a beautified vision. A Mad Men Audrey Hepburn universe. A place that was somehow more. Before the Vietnam War, the peace/love movement. Before things went 'bad'.

It never existed, but it is nice to think it did.

In Cold Blood is about the brutal 1959 murders of the Clutter family. It is, more than anything, about the loss of the ideal of family. The end to that make-believe world of the 1950s.

The cover presents an American pastoral. The photo is by William Eggleston. Eudora Welty said of his work:

"The extraordinary, compelling, honest, beautiful and unsparing photographs all have to do with the quality of our lives in the ongoing world: they succeed in showing us the grain of the present, like the cross-section of a tree.... They focus on the mundane world. But no subject is fuller of implications than the mundane world!"

The photo, and the book, live in a strange haze. As if time is still. The world frozen in a moment. Capote's book is languid though detailed. There is a sense of drift that that gigantic cloud captures.

The cloud over the landscape. The storm on the horizon. Though not a storm. Something else. The photo, and Capote's book seem to say that this is a new normal. A fact we must face.

And what of that? Is it true?

On December 14th America was shocked by the senseless murder of 20 children and 6 adults in Newtown, Connecticut. It is the latest in a long history of senseless killings.

From the Brady Campaign: In one year, guns murdered 17 people in Finland, 35 in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 60 in Spain, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States.

I don't have an 'answer' or a 'suggestion' on this. I don't know that Capote saw or had thoughts on the state of American crime. I don't believe Eggleston knew he was capturing a vanishing world. The world he captured was imagined in his lens. Capote's on the page.

We are left with enameled pots and pans. A hand on a stir stick. A cloud on the horizon. Ephemeral and beautiful and terrible.

Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

12 December 2012

Phantom Time

It did that outside this weekend! Which meant I couldn't really walk the streets looking for work. If you know what I mean.

Being unemployed is weird. You'd think I would spend my time writing up a storm. Instead I have watched a ton of Star Trek and Top Gear and read.

Geordi misses me if I don't check in.
Which there is nothing wrong with.

But the time has just vanished. It doesn't help that we are moving into winter, with its long dark nights and late sunrises.

And it doesn't help that I am car less. In a new place. With limited resources.

The idea that time passes differently depending on your state of mind, etc. is not a new one. And not something I need to explain. It is observable.

In 1991 a man named Heribert Illig devised a theory involving missing time. More accurately, phantom time.

Illig proposed that the years 614-911 did not exist.


He says that there is lack of archaeological evidence from those years. That Romanesque architecture in western Europe means that less than half a millennium could have passed due to weathering, etc. He also says that Charlemagne did not exist and was a construct of Otto III, who wanted so desperately to rule in the year 1000 that he had his scribes add 297 years to the calendar.

So it's 1715 and we are a long way off from the Mayan Apocalypse. And I can feel better about my lounging around. Or something.

What's strange is that I can see a ruler asking his court to invent time for him. I can see it working too. All you'd have to do is rule long enough and get others to follow suit. European politics is a fucked up land of nonsense and inter-familial marriages. They would totally conspire to make them all be rulers in the year 1000.

I mean Otto was king of Germany, Italy and the Holy Roman Empire, so it's not so far fetched.

Illig's theory isn't even the only one. Anatoly Fomenko has an entire rewritten world history to his credit. His 'New Chronology' has written history starting at 800AD and 'folds' all ancient history into the Middle Ages.

You can even buy the 7-volume re-history yourself. $10 a piece on Amazon!

All of this is to say. I'm clearly wasting time and not getting anything of value done. No working on novel. No poetry. No job.

And I am fine with it. I'll just edit those bits out later.

10 December 2012


Every year, in early January, I make a new folder on my desktop for that year's writing. Then at the end of the year I move the folder into the broader 'writing' folder on my external hard drive. Thus I complete my organizational rituals over my writing.

I don't print my writing out. Keep it in a filing cabinet or any of that. This is more out of cost than any real strong feeling on the issue. And space. I'd need another room for all that paper.

This year I am on track to only having 12 new things to show for my year. One a month. This is the smallest amount of work I have ever produced. Ever.

I can blame the novel. The move. The relationship. Whatever. It is not the truth though. The truth is that I have less to say in 2012. Or less I am interested in putting down.

I was discussing with J the other day about a decision I have to make. There is a certain type of poem I write that seems to get published. You can check out the latest Spittoon for an example of what I'm talking about.

That poem, is about a relationship. Or about language failing in a relationship. Or about how you are never as close as you want to be. Never exactly the same while being EXACTLY the same.

So what is the decision?

Publications seem to be into my 'relationship' poems. Ones with clear 'I' and 'You' and maybe some hand holding and some walking and a dose of existential ennui. And I am clearly able to write those things. But -

Who WILL save your soul?
Am I THAT writer? EYE ROLL!

The decision is to either put my energy in that basket and do it whole hog or, to continue as I have.

I'm not saying to turn my back on writing that fulfills me. Just to attempt to focus on writing that seems to be connecting with people more. Should I write a whole swath of 'relationship' poems? Trying to fill them with whatever I can to make them interesting, in the hopes that they find an audience?

I like to joke that the writer who wins is the one who keeps at it longest. After everyone else has fallen to the side they have no choice but to hand you the Nobel.

I have no solution. J thinks I can do both. With only 12 poems this year, I am clearly in need of making a commitment to A thing. But is it even a choice?

In the meantime, I have been re-working the novel and writing poems about taking my skeleton on walks. I count them as 2013 poems.

07 December 2012

Lose Your Mother

Poetry readings and I don't always get along. I find them tiring. I communicate better with words on page than in the air around me. Listening for more than 20 minutes and I get a bit ADHD and start to examine the walls of the room I'm in for peeling paint.

First image from a search - 'poetry reading'
I have a similar problem with music. I don't really absorb lyrics while listening. Not in a 'I understand the thesis of the song' kind of way. More in a 'words are happening' kind of way.

Tonight, J and I went to a great poetry reading at Collected Works in downtown Santa Fe. Muse Time Two is a series that pairs a local NM poet with a wider-known more established writer. The pairings often illuminate each authors work. I like the idea.

Tonight's reading was by Connie Voisine and Martha Collins. Voisine is the director of the writing program at NMSU in Las Cruces. Her poetry was beautiful.

Collins read from her books Blue Front (2006) and White Papers (2012). They are companion books about race, specifically race from a white American point of view.

Blue Front seems to be the stronger of the two books. It is centered around Collins' father witnessing the hanging in 1909 of Will James. There were 10,000 participants.

I want to let that number linger for a second. 10,000 people helped hang someone in 1909 in Cairo, Illinois in front of a restaurant named the Blue Front. In front of a 5 year-old boy. Below is a photo of the event.

The poems Collins read were a little too disjointed, a little too knowing. There was an aura of self-consciousness. Too aware of the topic. Obviously you are aware of it, but it was all a touch too blunt. Too 'white liberal guilt'. The moments of brilliance came in the unanswered and cut off questions. She had an entire poem with each line starting 'Because...' and not a one had an ending.

My stumbling into Collins poetry is an interesting coincidence. I just read Lose Your Mother by Saidiya Hartman. A similar examination of race but from the other side.

Hartman examines the African slave trade by taking a trip to Ghana. She attempts to connect with a place that is meant to be 'home'. She finds ambivalence and, in some cases, outright anger at her presence. At her insistence of bringing up the horrors of selling people.

Elmina Castle - Portuguese slave trading post
Ghana's politics on slavery are not easy water to tread. There is a modern slave trade that continues to this day. The view is that you are selling strangers, criminals, the non-religious and is therefor not a problem. Hartman paints several scenes of people telling her that the trade was bad when white men did it. They caused the problem. Her attempts to get locals to address the nobles of Africa selling off their own is met with silence.

Both of these books attempt to address race in a new way. From a different entry point. Collins comes at it with poetry and by addressing her whiteness. And using that as a means to open up what her being that means in America. She addresses blackness by acknowledging she can only address whiteness.

Hartman attempts to come at the topic of slavery honestly. She wants to see how the African tribes were complicit in the trade. She admits that going to Ghana, standing in the old Elmina castle does nothing to fill the empty space she feels. As a white man reading her book, I felt like that is the problem of the slave trade. There is no way to fill that space.

Both of these women address race calmly, without anger or melodrama. They also do it by telling their own stories. Collins tells that of her father and that 10,000 strong lynch mob. Hartman writes herself into the narrative, allowing us to see her disappointment and struggle with the topic.

Hartman manages a delicate balance of listing those accountable while not pointing a finger at the reader. Collins is less successful, but she has less room to do so. It is not her topic to be gracious about. It is not a topic to be gracious about. It is to Hartman's credit that she has chosen to open the topic up in this way.

I am grateful for Hartman's abilities to let me, a white man, into the conversation. I feel like it comes across condescending to say, but it is true. Being honest about our feelings on race is the first step to even begin to pretend to fix the problem.

03 December 2012

The Book of Nightmares

Somewhere behind me
a small fire goes on flaring in the rain, in the desolate ashes.
No matter now, whom it was built for,
it keeps its flames,
it warms
everyone who might wander into its radiance,
a tree, a lost animal, the stones,

because in the dying world it was set burning.

This is how the final section of Galway Kinnell's Book of Nightmares begins. What comes before and after is a harrowing and deeply dark journey through a strange wood. He recounts his daughter's birth, he dedicates it to her after he is gone and she is orphaned. The book in whole is dedicated to both of his children.

To call the book-length poem 'dark' is honestly to generalize what is going on. Nightmares was written in 1971 when Kinnell was 44. It starts with references to his young daughter and then veers into the Vietnam war and the civil rights movement. There are bears and fires and old crones drawing runes. The whole is buried in a Medieval feel. A sense of hearths and mud houses. Of black death and superstition.

He is equating our world with theirs.

It was this strange alchemy that drew me in from the first few words.

When I was 19 we had just come out of the Clinton years. It was a national high. I'm not even referring to the politics of the era, I was honestly an unengaged teenager and the time I lived in allowed that. The Clinton years were good for the country. We were seemingly prosperous, had come out of the 'culture wars' with new found tolerance (HA!) and were about to elect Al Gore President.

The 2000 election was not that election though.

The cynicism of a teenager mixed with the deep cynicism of the early 2000s is hard to explain. I think the US was in a fog post-election. Unwilling to really look at what had happened and deeply distrustful of the entire 'experiment' of American democracy.

The world seemed dark. Seemed like the world of the 1970s. Or, at least, what a 19 year-old thought the 70s were like.

The first section of the poem ends with:

      And in the days
      when you find yourself orphaned,
      of all wind-singing, of light,
      the pieces of cursed bread on your tongue,

      may there come back to you
      a voice,
      spectral, calling you
      from everything that dies.

      And then
      you shall open
      this book, even if it is the book of nightmares.

I read those lines, and still do today, as an address to me. Telling me that even in the darkness there is a small fire, a voice. My own voice. The voice of others. And that will be what saves us.

I recently read Stephen Greenblatt's The Swerve (2011 Norton). The book details the rediscovery and re-distribution of Lucretius' On the Nature of Things after nearly being lost. The poem was written sometime in the 1st century. It was in wide distribution and is referenced in many other classic texts. By the 9th century the poem vanished and was forgotten.

The Swerve details Poggio Bracciolini's discovery in 1417 and the resulting spread of the text.

Greenblatt argues that Lucretius' poem sowed the seeds of the Rennaissance, and thus all of modern thought.

I don't know if I agree with him. But the poem spread like wildfire and espoused a decidedly secular view of the world. It even went so far as to deny god in creating the universe, to deny fate. It names atoms. It talked up the beauty in living for pleasure not pain.

It was not a 1417 kind of work and was banned, burned and tried to be put back in its box numerous times.

Ideas are hard to kill. The voice in the dark is a thread that leads to whatever warmth may be needed.

Kinnell meant his poem to be a modern take on T.S. Elliot's Wasteland. An attempt, however futile, to reconnect the world in a moment of upheaval. The Vietnam War and the civil rights struggle were tearing the country apart. The promises that after World War II things would be 'normal' again, would be 'better' had proven false. He retreated to the woods, to nature, to the occult. He tried to bleed himself of it.

In 2000 these words seemed like prophecy. Today, they seem even more prescient. They call from the past and want something from us. We are tasked with building a fire, with calling to those lost in the woods. With building a shelter and dredging the past.

In 2000 that kept me moving. Kept me wanting to do this whole 'writing' thing. Today, even more so.

30 November 2012

Unsolved Mysteries

I love mystery. Be it the wonder of how a magician created the illusion or the unexplained murders that Robert Stack menacingly intoned on NBC, then CBS. I am in.

The internet is a boon and an ill-advised hole for people like me. The research-minded. I love reading about events, pouring over details, deciphering meaning. I love to know all the things about a topic. I remember little of it, but the point is in the looking.

The internet is full of the unsolved.

Take the story of Benjamin Kyle in Florida. He was discovered on August 31, 2004 naked in the trash area of a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Georgia. He had no identification, no memory of who he was or how he got there. There was evidence of several blows to the head and he was covered in blood.

He is believed to be in his 60s, from Indiana and he possibly went to college in Boulder, Colorado. He has oddly detailed memories of movie theaters in those two states as well as kitchen equipment.

He was given the name BK for Burger King ans later took the name Benjamin Kyle. Recently a documentary has been made about him and Senator Mike Weinstein was able to get him a Florida ID card so he could start to build an 'official' identity. He has no social security number and thus does not exist. A White House petition exists to help get him one. Without a SSN he cannot legally stay at homeless shelters or get a better job.

Recently I moved back to New Mexico so I'm feeling a little hyper-connected to my history. The concept of a blank slate may sound great, in theory, but it terrifies me. Watching this man attempt to go about his life without a history amazes me. I couldn't imagine it.

A different type of blank slate is the mysterious dead man.

The Taman Shud case is so odd. So very very very odd. That I really want to write a book about it. And will someday.

On December 1, 1948 a body was found on a beach in Australia. He was well-dressed, in good shape, and there was no obvious cause of death. The labels had been removed from all of his clothing. On Jan 14 a suitcase was found with clothing labeled 'T. Keane'. They connected the case to the body through a ball of orange thread that matched some used to fix a hole in the dead man's pants.

A sailor named Tom Keane was missing but his friends and family said that the clothes were not his and the body did not match.

Sewn in the man's pants was a slip of paper that read 'Taman Shud'. The phrase translates from Persian to mean 'finished'. It is the last line in a book by Omar Khayyam. They found the book. It had been left in a man's unlocked car three days before the unknown man died. In a different town.

The image above is what was found in the back of the book. A cypher that has never been decoded. Also in the book was the unlisted phone number for a woman. She claimed she had no knowledge of the man, though she nearly fainted when seeing the photos of the body. Coincidental, (or not) she had given a copy of the book to a different man 3 years earlier. A man who still had the copy. That man would only give half answers and innuendo when asked questions.

The woman's son shared rare genetic disorders with the dead man. The likelihood of this being a coincidence is estimated at 1 in 10,000,000.

And there's more! A man was found unconscious next to a bag containing his dead 3-year-old son's body in June of 1949 after being missing for 4 days. The man's wife claimed her husband thought he knew the dead man in the Taman Shud case. The wife had been terrorized by masked men for the days prior to the discovery of the husband and son. The man was committed to an institution after he recovered.

In 1945, three years before the Taman Shud case, another man was found dead with a copy of Khayyam's book open on his chest. A woman who testified at the inquest into the death was later found face down, wrists slit in a bathtub.

It's the perfect knot. Everyone involved is dead. Everyone involved refused to be helpful. What is most amazing is that despite all the information I just dumped on you, none of it leads anywhere conclusive. It is blank.

And that mystery is what I love. The inability to know. The desire to know. To fill in the blanks. Who was the Taman Shud man? Who is Benjamin Kyle? What led them to where they ended up? How does anyone get where they end up? That's the real point of the mystery. That ?

28 November 2012

Do Over

I am back in New Mexico after 7 years away. Walking the streets of Santa Fe looking for work has been both a reconnection and a bit demoralizing.

This place is where I went to college. Where I 'grew up'.

Today I applied at the cafe I worked at in 2001 when I was awoken at 5am by a phone call telling me to be careful when I went out to my car that morning. That the person on the other end was 'watching' me. Was aware of the time I left my dorm room, alone, in the dark.

Obviously I called and told them I didn't feel safe. That I would come in after the sun was up.

When I got home the word 'faggot' had been written on my door in sharpie. I painted over it in a blue that was clearly lighter. I hung a dry erase board over the spot.

The College of Santa Fe has since gone out of business and been renamed the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.

Fogelson Library, College of Santa Fe

This is the city where I got my only ticket. After watching the final Lord of the Rings movie at a midnight showing I was driving home at 3am. I was stopped at a light at Cerillos and St. Francis. The light would not change. It stared red at me for 10 minutes. I was making a left. I went when it was safe to. Immediately a cop showed up. He had been watching me from the vacant lot across the street.

He didn't ticket me for the turn. But for a burned out headlight that I didn't know about.

That vacant lot is now a Starbucks drive through. They don't have an inside seating area, just some chairs under an awning. There are heaters so people can sit and use their laptops. Outside. So far there have been people there every day.

These two anecdotes are not meant to moan the change. Nor is it a 'I'm getting old' pastiche. It is merely noting the change. The history.

In returning I am revisiting. I am redoing. I am also moving on. From the New York thing to whatever this will be.

And that is exciting. But it also has me worried. What will my writing be like now? Who am I here, in this place, now? I am in my 30s. What does that mean?

So far I've decided to rewrite the first third of the novel that was supposedly finished. The one agents are looking at. Or, were looking at. Since none have said more than 'thank you'. So I am rewriting. And that seems to make sense. The part of the novel that I've decided to do over is the part set in Santa Fe.

It is the beginning of the story.

And also the end.

26 November 2012

Dust Jacket : Louise Glück Poems 1962-2012

Louise Glück Poems 1962-2012
Designed by: Gretchen Achilles
Mezzotint by: Vija Celmins

When I first saw Gretchen Achilles' cover for Louise Glück's new collection I thought to myself how perfect the cover was. How it was mysterious. We are coming into orbit of a strange new world. With all the possibilities that that entails.

Simplicity hinting at the complex just out of our reach. This is like Glück's work. Layers are peeled away and things come into focus. Things we thought we knew. That we never could.

Achilles is the owner of Wavetrap Design. She is a freelance designer and has worked for all the major publishers.

Her choice for cover image shows her talent. This is a 1985 mezzotint by Vija Celmins. Celmins was born in Latvia but has lived in the US since she was 10. She works primarily in graphite and is known for her hyper-realistic work.

Darwin 2008-10, oil on canvas

Her space drawings are particularly interesting to me:

Star Field III 1982-83, graphite on acrylic ground on paper

They remind me of work from other artists. Chuck Close comes to mind with his highly detailed paintings and drawings. And Lory Pollina's graphite work:

Noosphere No. 3 2010, graphite on paper

In all these works it feels like something is being revealed while also being kept hidden. It feels like something we have seen before, but is totally alien. Again, this is like Glück's work.

The book covers 50 years of work. It resembles old sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s. It calls to mind great half-true representations of space.

Those half true representations are large in my mind. In the larger culture's mind as well. Below is a photo Cassini took of Saturn in 2006.

It is hard not to picture a space ship moving towards that. Sending a probe out to investigate. Finding an evil creature bent on our destruction.

It's very hard to see in the picture. On the upper left edge of the inner rings is a small blue dot...


Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

16 November 2012


Packing up six-years-worth of New York in the last few weeks I have found things:

1) The strange laminated obituaries that they hand out at funerals for three family members. Their faces frozen under the heat-sealed plastic. Forever staring out; their accomplishments listed in fine newspaper typefaces. All three were in shades of pink. From fluffy bubblegum to pale lavender. They make a spectrum of mourning. Is mourning pink?

2) Photos from high school. From college. From trips to England in 2004. Back when I took pictures with cameras and then printed them at one hour photos. We don't do things in an hour anymore. In New York, you wait an hour to get a table at a restaurant. And then sit in a moodily lit space and eat your meal. It is like a perfectly curated set for a photo shoot, a movie, a life.

3) 300 fliers for a New Year's Eve 2001 rave. In Santa Fe.

I have not found dead spiders or roaches. This isn't like when I left Santa Fe 7 years ago and kept finding dead preying mantis in the back of my car. Their little green bodies curled and cross-legged on the back seat of my car. Or in the trunk. Or on the floor.

I take that as a sign.

Of what.

12 November 2012

Sacred Emily

I would like to talk about my writing in terms that make sense to non-writers. I'd settle for terms that make sense.

The first thing my mother always asks me when she reads a poem of mine is 'What does it mean?' or she will single out an element and ask what it means. What so-and-so stands for.

I never know how to answer her. She's asking a basic question. She wants to see into the metaphor and imagery that I'm using. To see with the same eyes. But most of the time a cigar is a cigar and there isn't much to add. In fact, I would argue that while we can discuss 'deeper' meanings all we want, at the end of the day most things mean exactly what they appear to.

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.

I come into this problem head long when I attempt to pull together a manuscript for competitions. Here my problem is one of overview. The long count. The career statement.

And I get hung up on it a bit. The what thing follows what question.

My current manuscript is a conglomerate of three. Which were themselves successors to other, older attempts. The first was called A Map of Longing. It was an examination of childhood told through poems about loss and death of elder family members. It was sad.

The second was an abandoned project on the life of Nikola Tesla that was called He'll Be A Child Of The Storm, No Of Light. It is something I am still interested in and will someday go back to, but it will be much longer. More involved, and probably use some prose.

The final manuscript was my 'hits' package. It was called Museum of Natural History and combined my word-a-day poems with poems about trees, science, and some of the death stuff from Longing. There were also poems about a fictional break-up that were told through the history of locations they go to. This manuscript also featured all of my poems that have been published.

None of them felt whole. So I've smooshed them together. Cutting some poems, adding others. I've left in the published work, but one of them may go.

But that's a perfect example of my problem. I don't know if it should. I have stared at this thing for days. Thought about it. I don't know if the poems should alternate in trios or if I should section the whole thing off.

Part 1: Childhood/End of innocence

Part 2: SCIENCE!
Part 3: Break-up/History/Tesla

Or not.

I have gone back to my college method of dealing with it. I printed the whole thing out and have it spread on my floor. The pages facing the light of day. Hanging out together. It's a hot mess since I'm also packing to move 2,000 miles THIS WEEK!

All of this is to say that A) I am working on my poetry; and B) I have no fucking clue what I'm doing.

But I never do.

07 November 2012

Dust Jacket : Search Sweet Country

Search Sweet Country (1986)
Designed by: Brian McMullen

This is a 25th Anniversary edition from McSweeney's. Brian McMullen is their head artistic director. He also oversees their new children's book division.

The book is set in Ghana. This is important as a starting point for the image on the cover. It is clearly an African textile print. Almost to a generic point.

These printed fabrics are beautiful. It is an obvious reference point when dealing with a book that has been called "one of the greatest novels ever to come out of the African continent". The cover is even more important when you consider that the book follows a large cast of characters.

From McSweeney's book flap:

Bringing to life the bustling markets and bars in dizzying, lyrical prose, Laing weaves a story filled with bizarre and often melancholy characters...Their collective narratives create a portrait of a country where colonialism is dying, but democracy remains elusive.

A patchwork.

Of course McMullen chose to render the fabric in soft greens and browns. Tilted away from the viewer. Softly fading into the horizon.

Northwest Minn 9/09 - NASA Earth Observatory

It's a visual trick that makes it both cloth and farm land. A simple trick, but genius on McMullen's part.

Photos like the one above have always been mesmerizing for me. The weird perfection of our division of space. The OCDness of it. African cloth is just as oddly perfect. The little squares with their conflicting yet harmonious content.

This is the best visual metaphor for writing I have ever seen. Not just for this story, but all stories.

Dust Jacket is a sometime article about the design and art of book covers. The idea is to shine a spotlight on the work of the designer separate from the author. Literally judging a book by its cover.

05 November 2012

That odd looking second line of cars across the street form my apartment showed up two days ago. It goes up Bedford 4 blocks to the gas station, where the National Guard is allowing people to get $10 worth of gas. There is another line for emergency vehicles. And a third for pedestrians with containers. I saw people carrying water bottles...

That line is there all day and night.

31 October 2012

Inspiration : Unworthy

Unworthy 9/27/09

The human body can go bad in so many ways.

One day you are sitting, eating a muffin, drinking a latte. The next you have cancer, a blood disease, an aneurysm.

There are some truly horrifying illnesses that can just happen.

And that I am afraid of.

I fear I have genetic disorders
A bad heart, ASL, cancer, gum disease
My head is going to decide that sanity isn't for it

The image above is of Blascho's Lines. They are invisible lines that cover your body. Mine. They become suddenly visible with various skin disorders. The lines are believed to trace the migration of embryonic cells during in utero development. They do not correspond to nervous, muscular, or lymphatic systems. The lines can be observed in other animals such as cats and dogs.

The stripes are a type of genetic mosaicism. Which is when different cells with different genotypes appear in one individual.

Your body is a mosaic.

This is a portrait mosaic from Pompeii. A woman with a pen to her lips, book in hand. She is contemplating 50 Shades of Gray. Or something. Point is, she's made up of little tiles. That mimic atoms. And she had invisible lines of embryonic cells all over her.

And maybe they showed up sometime.

When they do. They look like this.

And that kind of looks like a kick-ass leopard make-up job. Though more calico cat.

I fear the divide between reality and dreaming
It blurs sometimes
It's an ocean liner - I'm a bit of wood

I recently had a strange fight with a skin disorder. I thought it was ring worm. And I even talked about it in a post.

It turned out that the rash was actually Pityrias Rosea. Which has no known cause and is treated by 'waiting'. It showed up in lines across my chest and back. In a pattern that looked like stripes. In lines.

What is amazing about the ways the body goes wrong. Is that sometimes it does and we suddenly can see how it began. We hold the memory of our creation in lines across our skin. They are hidden. They are forgotten.

I fear tomorrow will be the same as today and so on
That the sun will rise and the sky will be blue
I fear not being afraid

We are recordings of ourselves.

Inspiration is a try at exploring my own work in a thoughtful way. A book report on me.

26 October 2012

History of Maps

After my post on Wednesday I thought I'd do a rundown of how maps evolved. Why not? I'm going to start with a section from that post and go from there.

A History of Maps!

The earliest map we have is the Babylonian Imago Mundi from 600 BCE. The clay tablet shows Babylon at the heart of a seven-pointed star of islands. The accompanying text describes three of the islands:

1-"place of the rising sun"
2-"the sun is hidden and nothing can be seen"
3-"beyond the flight of birds"

Babylonian Imago Mundi
The idea of the nation drawing the map being at the center of the world would continue throughout the ages. Human nature creates a false sense of center. We all think we are the center of the world. It has led to flat world theories, the earth being the center of the universe, and numerous wars.

Similarly Anaximander created an Aegean-centered world map  c. 610 BCE. This map would form the basis of most cartography for the next 700 years. Each generation slightly improving upon the original.

The incremental changes built up until we get to Ptolemy's map c. 150. This new map revolutionized the concepts of cartography. Ptolemy introduced longitude and latitude as well as aligning terrestrial and celestial observations. His ideas and descriptions would influence map makers for over 1000 years.

15th century reconstruction of Ptolemy's World Map

Ptolemy did not draw a map that exists to modern times. In the 1300s his manuscript for Geographia was rediscovered and promptly people started drawing maps based on his descriptions. The map is flawed but set people in the right direction. Within 100 years we would have maps that begin to look like the world as it truly is.

Genoese map of 1457

While the Genoese map is somewhat confusing to look at, Europe, northern Africa, and Asia are all clear and mostly the right shapes.

What I would consider an early true 'modern' looking map of the whole world is the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) by Abraham Ortelius. 60 years later the Nova totius Terrarum Orbis (1630) by Hendrik Hondius. This map is basically the world as it is.

And it only took 2200 years!

Nova totius Terrarum Orbis (1630)