Saturday, May 31, 2014

Breaking the Ice

Dear Readers,

We've been in a state of shock here at Marlinspike Hall, and therefore you've been subjected to reposts and horrid efforts at small fictions and large poetries.

It occurred to me in the middle of the night, last night's middle, perhaps, that a good many of you have come to be fond of one Grader Boob, a frequent figure in our Tête de Hergé lives, and one of my two esteemed Brother-Units.

He's the guy who has faithfully professed English language and literature at a major US university for... lo, these many years.  In the past five years or so, it's been a struggle, being an English Professor in the United States of America.  Suddenly, professors find themselves strung along from semester to semester, quarter to quarter, summer session to summer session, and no longer employed at a living wage.

And God forbid there should be that huge waste of remuneration in the form of benefits, such as health insurance.

So Grader Boob (the moniker of his choosing, not mine) has been ferrying his increasingly weary self between three universities, two of brick-and-mortar, one virtual, all paying slave wages, none providing benefits. Like health insurance.

The thing about Grader Boob and teaching is this:  You could somehow hire him on as a volunteer and he would invest the same amount of intense attention to his students and their work as he would were he the Dean of the Universe, paid bazillions, and provided with benefits.  Like health insurance.

There needs to be a revision to the stock phrase:  "Publish or perish."
I suggest:  "Teach and perish."

For several years, Brother-Unit Grader Boob has been off his game.  Not quite himself.  You will remember, perhaps, a previous post, Regula Benedicti: Ora et labora, which begins this way:

We've requested a Special Mass to be held at the Monastery-Down-The-Road on behalf of my brother Grader Boob (his preferred form of address). We do this every year on the first day of classes at his university.
Of course, we haven't always had the luck to live next door to a Catholic Prayer Factory. Back in the States, we sometimes had to improvise. The things we had to do to get the Jehovah's Witnesses on board! Only for Grader Boob would I deny Plato and my firm belief that I will suffer the fires of Hell. 
On the other hand, it was hard to get the Presbyterians to stop hosting Prayer Vigils for Beleaguered Educators every hour, on the hour -- once they get stuff out of committee, Presbyterians are a fearsome force.
One year we were kind of in a religious snit, and went with the Council for Secular Humanism. Okay, so they kicked us out when I began screaming "What do you mean there’s no such thing as spirit? And Grader Boob, he's undesigned, unintended, and responsible for [himself]? Since when? I don't think so! And, furthermore: Harrumph." 
Since we've been in occupancy at The Manor, and since Marlinspike Hall borders the monastery, Fred and I have been treated to catechisms and concordances, hagiography and the Regula Benedicti, The Rule of Saint Benedict.
I confess that we failed to cover our boy with the requisite spiritual energies last year.  And then, of course, there was all that working three jobs, and having no benefits.  Like health insurance.

Okay, I can do this.

Grader Boob seems to be riddled with what he calls "spots" and "lumps," and which his brand spanking new oncologist calls cancer. His kidneys, his lungs, his bones, his "soft tissue," and likely, his intestines. The primary cancer is renal, the rest are what the cool cancer crowd calls "mets." It's a highly metastasized case o' cancer.

He finally has health insurance, courtesy of the ACA and the MarketPlace.  I'd make the easy joke about "better late than never," but hope you'll excuse my inability.

He's in severe pain and it's not yet being addressed adequately.  I am sure that's coming, but here we are in the midst of another weekend, and he's suffering.  I hate weekends, knowing what it is like to hurt, be afraid, and feel cut off from the 9-5 work-a-day world of Monday through Friday.  I hate 3 am.  I hate knowing that Grader Boob now knows what I know.

We were anticipating an all out attack.  A war.  I was thinking... tee-shirts ("Team Grader Boob Kicks Cancer's Ass!"), organic veggies galore, a Facebook page, and trips to Disneyland.  We'd all shave our heads in solidarity, do the St. Baldrick's thing.  You know, while he suffered through chemo, surgery, and whatever.

Instead, his musculoskeletal oncologist, one of the best around, offered some radiation to his shoulder, site of a large tumor involving bone and soft tissue, and in such an area rich in nerves and slightly important blood vessels.  That's it.

We are sure there will be more.  Surely some surgery.  Surely a bit of this, a soupçon of that.

But there's a heaviness that grows heavier day by day as we absorb the monolithic offering.  As Grader Boob struggles to catch his breath, rejoices in finally being allowed to take a shower, and learns the bitter lessons of traversing the health care system while feeling horrible.

I violated his wishes -- not stated, but known, nonetheless -- and rallied the Friends of Grader Boob, scattered hither and yon.  The greatest mover-and-shaker among this Illustrious Group, the guy the Boob trusts the most, had to hop a plane to Madrid for three weeks the day after contact was made, and the news bomb dropped upon him.  Therefore, the Grader Boob has held folks at bay with the mantra:  "You may invade my space as soon as Madrid Guy gets back in town, not before."

Grader Boob can drive you crazy.

His needs are great;  his willingness to accept help steeped in reinforced concrete.  We're going to wear him down.  I mean how long can a guy with painful cancers, little pain management, and even less sleep withstand the constancy of such a Wall of Love, chip-chip-chipping away at his intransigence?

Seriously, Dearest Readers, how long?

I am going.  Several others are making the trek.  I will need a while to get there... but nothing can keep me from my beloved Grader Boob.

And I will carry with me your love... for this lovely, gentle, witty, compassionate brother.

I look back at "the good old days," like 30 March 2014, when GB ended a cheery email this way:
"Not much else a-going on. Still having trouble getting fired up to teach, so I should just appreciate that I've got classes at all!"

© 2013 L. Ryan

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Uploaded by Br Lawrence Morey on June 3, 2012:
Compline (pronounced COM-plin, short "o," short "i") is the final office of the day, sung just before the monks go to bed. The lights are never turned on for compline. This means that, during the winter months at Gethsemani, it is sung in the dark. Since the same psalms and canticles are sung every evening, the monks know this office by heart. The darkness is not a hindrance, therefore, but an aid to prayer. 
This video contains the entire Office of Compline. We encourage you to sing along with us at home.

*****   ******   ******   *****   ******   ******   *****   ******   ****** 

 Compline – the Abbey of Gethsemani

Opening Verse and Response 

V - O God, come to my assistance, 
R - O Lord, make haste to help me 


Praise the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit 
Both now and forever, 
The God who is who was and is to come 
At the end of the ages. 


Before the ending of the day 
creator of the world we pray 
that with thy gracious favour thou 
wouldst be our guard and keeper now. 

From fears and terrors of the night 
defend us Lord by thy great might 
and when we close our eyes in sleep 
let hearts with Christ their vigil keep. 

O Father, this we ask be done 
through Jesus Christ thine only Son 
who with the Paraclete and thee 
now lives and reigns eternally. 

Psalm 4 

Psalm 90 

Unfortunately, we cannot include the texts for the psalms, since they are under 
copyright. The version we use is the Grail translation, and is widely available. It 
is published, for example, in the book The Psalms: A New Translation: Singing 
Version, by Paulist Press. This is for sale at the gift shop in Gethsemani’s 
Welcome Center, or from This translation is also the one used in 
the various editions of the Roman Liturgy of the Hours. 

Short Reading – chosen at the reader’s discretion – usually no more than a verse.  
Versicle and Responsory 

V - Guard us O Lord as the apple of your eye 
R - Hide us in the shadow of your wings. 

Antiphon for Canticle of Simeon (AKA Nunc Dimittis) 

Lord, save us, save us while we are awake, 
protect us while we are asleep 
that we may keep our watch with Christ 
and when we sleep, rest in his peace. 

Canticle of Simeon 

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, 
your word has been fulfilled 

My own eyes have seen the salvation 
which you have prepared in the sight of every people 

A light to reveal you to the nations 
and the glory of your people Israel. 

Doxology (Praise the Father, etc.) 
Repeat the antiphon (Lord, save us, etc.) 

Short Litany 

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. 


Let us pray: 

All powerful God, grant us so to remain united to your only Son in the mystery of his death and 
burial that we may rise with him to newness of life, for He lives and reigns forever and ever. 
R - Amen 


May the all-powerful Lord grant us a restful night and a peaceful death. 
R - Amen. 
Marian Antiphon - Salve Regina

Hail Holy Queen 
Mother of mercy 
hail our life, our sweetness and our hope. 
To you do we cry 
poor banished children of Eve, 
to you do we send up our sighs, 
mourning and weeping 
in this vale of tears. 
Turn, then, most gracious advocate, 
your eyes of mercy toward us, 
and after this our exile 
show unto us 
the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. 
O clement, 
O loving, 
O sweet 
Virgin Mary.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Mitigating Factors

Mitigating Factors: Dame Marjorie Chardin, P-876954, and Nathan Hale

Do you remember Uncle Victor, Harold's one-armed relative, the sleeve of his dress uniform folded neatly and rigged to a mechanized salute? The one described as "General Bradley's right hand man"?

The one who said: "The two best wars this country ever fought were against the Gerrys. I say get the Krauts on the other side of the fence where they belong. Let's get back to the kind of enemy worth killing, and the kind of war this whole country can support."

While I wasn't exposed to statements like that, as a military brat, I did grow up tapping my toes to the tune of regret. Regret that the average soldier was more interested in the benefits promised after a few piddly years of service; Regret that black men were enlisting in disproportionate numbers; Regret that the military found itself more and more in the position of a finishing school for people that never really even had a start.

I am still confused about my father's view of war. He did not love it or hope for it, though he did wax poetically nostalgic about the unity war supposedly gifted to this country prior to, say, 1950.

Brilliant, in some ways, my father rationalized his involvement in the decision to kill other men and women. It was, thought he, inevitable that they should die. Therefore, he served proudly as their personal Mitigating Factor.

As Mitigating Factor, he transformed what might otherwise be seen as -- simply -- sanctioned murder, into the cleanest, quickest, most painless death possible.

He was a pilot, of course. Dropping bombs (and other things) -- not onto people but onto strategic targets. Eliminating those targets would advance some battle plan or other, and the smooth advancement of that plan would likely have a domino effect of smoothness on the overarching blueprint for the war.

Fewer of "our boys" would die. The "conflict" would be shortened, the enemy thereby benefitting as much as our own valiant selves. Collateral Damage, meet my Dad, the Mitigating Factor.

I think he was only at peace in the sky, flying high. He didn't become a Total Fart until they pulled him down from up there so as to better pick his brain for its brilliance in organization and logic.

His logic could, and did, drive people crazy. Foundational logic. As if it were so decreed by the Boy Scout Manual, he never did or said anything without the sturdy tripod of an unassailable foundation.

This liberated him from responsibility and guilt, and rendered him always right. He had a heart, and he loved deeply, but those emotional twinges couldn't compare with the imperative to be always right.

Someone who drops bombs on people cannot afford to entertain the notion of being wrong.

So it only followed -- oh, how tired I grew of everything following, everything proceeding logically -- So it only followed that when his 20 year old son, a tall, good-looking, and terribly smart piece of Collateral Damage, bared his soul to reveal that he did not have enough money for food, my Dad, his Mitigating Factor, replied, "You once told me to get out of your life, and I have."

He named the date, complete with day of the week, added a time stamp, and noted the locale of that blurted bit of adolescent pique.

In the world of a Bomb-Dropper, choices and options appear but once and you don’t have the luxury of “opting out” of your choice. It’s all or nothing, black or white. The bombed people are either dead or alive, never wounded, never forever barely there, pursuing promises in prosthetics the way a hormone-driven boy might pursue a twitching skirt.

At the age of 16, I marched into the living room one evening and opined that I would like to, possibly, maybe, if it wouldn’t upset World Harmony overly much, visit my Mother -- from whom I had been separated for roughly a dozen years. It took more courage than I actually had to stand in that precisely decorated room and make that particular request. I clearly had not considered how it might be transformed by Foundational Logic, or how I might be promptly and expeditiously molded into Collateral Damage by the very dominant Mitigating Factor.

“I will get your luggage down from the attic, you can pack all your things, and leave now,” he answered. Within minutes, he had the trap door and rickety stairs pulled down, and my soft-sided, blue-plaid luggage set came flying and bouncing down, tossed one right after the other: 3 suitcases of graduated sizes, an overnight bag, plus one hard-sided makeup case that I inherited from my step-mother.

I've never much enjoyed arguing either side of nature versus nurture. I see my father's same frightening intransigence in myself, and therefore understand my nagging need to place my absolutism clearly in the Realm of That Which is Good.

And Right. Good, and Right.

I am sure that you can probably find there where I fly above it all and drop bombs for the furtherance of conquest, as well. Excuse me for excusing myself from that much insight.

I haven't seen or spoken to the man since 1989 and since he laid down on the couch, curled up, and died two years ago come July, I never will, I look at pictures of his father in old age and figure that he must have looked roughly the same. My aunt, his sister, exploded the myth of that grandfather as kindly some time ago. For some reason, my reaction has settled into complacency. I am not gifted with logic, for my thinking goes something like this:

Granddaddy was not the kind and gentle man I [thought I] knew. He terrorized and beat his children. So it makes sense that he was an orphan. That he was an orphan explains everything.

Huh? Do you follow that? I don't and I am the one thinking it.

Dad did not just bomb the life out of people. He also did brave things like fly a huge, lumbering (indefensible) aircraft very low over enemy territory so as to rescue a group of injured compatriots. We called them "hospital planes." They were converted C-141s, not exactly lithe and agile aircraft.

He was practically the Patron Saint of Hospital Plane Jockeys, and there were large numbers of female flight nurses who adored him. They would hoot and holler at him when he rode around base. He ate it up.  It was the only time I saw him act like the rest of us mere mortals.  He even blushed if his beloved bride was in the Cadillac (The only car worth driving; He hammered into my head: "It only costs 10% more to go first class." -- How shocked he must have been by his end. Too bad he missed Mitt's "47%" as that would have been rich fodder for the man.)  The flight nurses were young and cute, all booby, and calling: "Hey! Wild Bill! Happy landings! Woo hoo!"

There is a remarkable photo essay, I suppose it might be called, that the Denver Post published on the 35th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, April 30, 2010. It is called "Captured: A Look Back at the Vietnam War."

In the middle of all these words, I had to stop and look at something. I trust the visual, even knowing that it, too, can be manipulated. I needed to feel sweltering tropical heat again, that heaviness, that being-under-water feeling. In the Philippines, every rainy-seasoned afternoon at tea-time four, I would sit on the porch and watch the line of fierce rain travel across the rice paddies, the verdant hills. We lived right next to the Perimeter Fence. Negrito women who could not take care of their newborn babies threw them over that fence in the hope that an MP would find the tiny thing and take him or her to the hospital. Such was our thanks to those who saved USAmerican flyers from dying in the jungle in World War II.

For some reason, an image formed in my mind of an MP with a wee enfant skewered on the end of a bayonet. That never happened, of course.

I find myself increasingly tired of people and their antics, even as a weird encompassing love for people is born in me. We are so foolish, so full of ourselves. So fundamentally fucked up.

Harold says to Maude: You sure have a way with people." She famously responds: "Well, they're my species!" -- and we all smile to ourselves, indulgent.

Of course, she waltzes through the film with a number (P-876954) tattooed on her forearm, as well. This is supposed to make the odd, beloved character an even greater life force, of course, careening toward suicide with unparalleled joie de vivre and Cat Stevens crooning "trouble..." in the background.

(A Curiosity: I have noted, over these many years of forcing my friends to watch Harold and Maude, that there are two, and only two, types of viewers of my acquaintance. There are those who come away chattering about daisies, and incessantly blathering about how they "feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this [point to a daisy] yet allow themselves be treated as that [gesture to a field of daisies]." Then there are the people who realize that Maude's munificent world view was born of essential and terrible hardship, and maintained in spite of naked and recurring evil. It scares me sometimes that I, and people of my ilk, do not engage in any synthesis. One is either a daisy-pointing dolt or a sarcastic bit of Damaged Goods.)

I have dreamt about that film often enough. In my succinct dream style, the film just has a few scenes, pretty faithfully reproduced.

There is the moment where Maude announces, "I took the pills an hour ago. I'll be gone by midnight," and we see the horror of comprehension spread across Bud Cort's young face and hear his scream coalesce with an ambulance's siren.

Not quite superimposed, more like... overlapping, is the scene where Harold's modified hearse flies over the cliff.

But, annoying as a computer popup screen, is interspersed Uncle Victor, the stump of his right arm flying up into a salute, crying: "Just like Nathan Hale... That's what this country needs -- more Nathan Hales."

© 2013 L. Ryan

This Room

this room will not be tainted

she grew into this room as well as, but better than, up

in it; nothing has changed; there's nothing new

but the sturdy-handled wicker basket for dirty

clothes, two cup holders, a bell, and one book case.

same pretty pictures, all six rothkos, how bright this morning, smoldering

scoffs tonight; deceptions are verbs that require prepositions

like pre-positioned trip wires tied off between window ledge

and door's edge: she's been in here ten years now.

but there are blinds that louver open, ventilating slits, bits of light

for fears (and light) though it's a sharply inclined street and her closest

neighbor can see right up in, see her struggling, hear her inchoate scream.

the first time, afraid, he called the police; now richard waves "hello."

gadgetry galore, more than she wants, but it pleases him to give;

she wishes he knew what trip wires did, how four hours to get up

was not unusual; she wears quilts made soft from wash and wear

until the worn holes catch on toes and skin, then she trades them in.

all is cotton, organic if she's able, even what is stuffed in pillows, coverlets,

those quilts, and the softest hospital scrubs she wears beneath them. she's felt

this room as a topograph in braille billowy tufted, knows it equally well as from

a telephoto lens, focused on infinity. the first three years she served friends tea

from the metal bed, shrubs shiny green behind the blind behind her head

but they so wanted to see her dead (not "suffering" is what they said),

that tea-time died. so for that departed ritual, he brings coffees twice a day

but can't stay to talk. it's funny, so she laughs, and twirls the finest glass

in her imagination, for now food and drink arrives in plastic with exaggerated

grips, though it never was she who spilled colas or dripped italian gravies.

her secret is she's fond of stains, they're history, tell stories, remember when

you spilled the cola laughing so hard at the only joke i know?

she has a chair so powerful it only needs one working thumb. there

is a whole house she owns with him, she heeds the call of domesticity

but the wild lair calls her home more quickly now that she will not moan

in public, or scream squirm spasm moan squirm spasm, she just won't.

if she needs richness, she finds it, evidence of what was is dream close

or over there, framed; when she tires of her music, richard next door blares

staccato beats on sunny sundays and her man strums guitars and ukuleles,

saving the piano for rough nights: he's so kind it literally swells her heart.

he sings silly tunes and dylan, and when he thinks that she's asleep,

he sings tracy chapman, "baby can i hold you," and she almost goes

for lack of air, from silent sobbing i'm sorry, forgive me, i'm sorry, forgive me.

they're waiting, they're waiting for her to give up and sleep, forever, forever,

forever and a day, so the room can spin away, the room can be wall-less,

or a reading room, a solarium, or a music space, or empty but painted

orange or cobalt blue, and the windows can open, so richard can yell and be yelled

back at, laughing, saying "hello in there." she says: this room will not be tainted.

© 2013 L. Ryan

monday, 26 may 2014

Courtesy of "Down the Dolce Vita"

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Pen, ink, charcoal, silver exposure,

the time it took to focus --

I try to honor what made it,

not who, resisting the forced

twisting of my vane to the East

on this decidedly Western day,

and the visual bane of pen, ink,

and charcoal clues, chemically cured,

hand-swiped beastly bled-of-color visions, various

bleak bombs, the requisite clinging siblings,

and wonder whether to thank the artist

for cuing up the Orient as horror's home

again (though my vane does creak,

rust breaking, trailing oxidated orange,

auroral to the curse) -- for that

is not my home.

Not my bones cured to artist's tools;

shapely flint, with which you etch

and smear, for that, I tell you,

is not my home, not my bones, seared on silver

plate -- hold the count exposures and f-stops,

not my tall, lean western frame

carressing entryways, kissing

vapored hands to hand-honed brick,

tonguing mason-made insets of stone,

down by the water, no mortar -- "a dry stone wall

will outlive its maker" -- vapor

coalesced without steam

or streak to run a charcoaled finger through,

in nice rice paper play (kaa-chan?kaa-chan?), crinkling

winds, dust snakes scrape, then color my eye,

and give my plump mouth, my cornea

the pop of orange,

iodine from heaven,

Tibbets' Mama.

Floating Lantern: Hiroshima Speaks Out

What difference what disaster is, when what is

is not my home?  A tsunami brings the sun,

cruel fast, a quake the urge to run, but bombs

make children huddle, under desks, under anything,

(kaa-chan?kaa-chan?) because that vacuum

suck that sucks your air whirls round

to scream "nothing, nothing, I will leave

you nothing," but all this art, this memorial mess,

your pastel bones, your charcoal bones,

your frozen frieze, your never again need

to pose there where is not home, my vain

conceit to cruise at perfect altitude,

to race the cloud, and laugh a little

for relief at being alive, and that you survived

to hug and curl in radiated ruin, fat pink legs

in utero gone soot to soot,

you there, all together and alone,

so very, very not my home.

© 2013 L. Ryan

The Verbal Equivalent of "Crunch"

I have been abusing
"screaming ninnies," misusing
it to describe my spastic, spasming,
painful periods of dystonia.

I say that I have the "screaming ninnies,"
which makes no sense at all.

Still, it's a habit,
and I'll likely continue to misuse it for lack
of words that feel right,
that encompass the realities of screaming
bloody murder on a cellular level,
my cells' uvulae all a-quiver,
feeling bat-shit nuts,
personifying inanity,
all at the same time:

You stupid git!
I'm so sick.
Don't roll your goddamn eyes.

You want the pretense:
There is a problem list in play,
and as I work the problem,
solutions will come, the list will end, and voilà,
the problems have been put to rest, put to bed, are gone.

You stupid git!
I'm so sick.
Don't roll your goddamn eyes.

Oh, I am thankful, don't worry.
This poem, or that,
as you know, convert into top-notch
inspirational gratitude
with an at-the-ready daily devotional
doily, or - bate-the-breath -
an honest to goodness antimacassar..

Just pick a poem, any poem, read it, and be glad.
Rejoice, rejoice,
rejoice, I say, in the poem.

While screaming obscenities last evening,
I got tickled,in that Southern way,
in the vernacular of greens and hot sauce.
Giggling, weeping, and yelling,
simultaneously.  (The simultaneity of things
is the rip tide in this, my ocean.)

Curse words are satisfying
but somehow all the seats were pews,
all the books psalters, every top
ten hit a hymn..

So, of course, I called out "shitake mushrooms"
over and over, laughing at such
a honed wit
(because laughter demands
an indirect object).

You stupid git!
I'm so sick.
Don't roll your goddamn eyes.

I can't stop talking when I am this sick.
Or I cannot cease the saying of
the same phrases over and over,
and rarely can I sustain conversation
that doesn't reek of, well, onions.

Oh, all right, desperation. That doesn't reek of desperation.
I'm hungry. I'm so sick,
You stupid git.

Replace "screaming ninnies" and "shitake mushrooms,"
all to lose your goddamn rolling eyes.

When "altered" in intensive care,
I wore the world out with "O, God"
exclamations and "O, Dear God" moans.
The result was one crazy Me
screaming to another crazy Me:
"Shut up! Shut up!
God ain't here right now!"

You stupid, goddamn eye-rolled git,
I am so sick.

Further rumination on ninny would yield little.
then as now.
We should honor, though,
the prominence of the gerund
because this term is, frankly, very
verbal, hyperactive, and
stuck that way, like a gerund.

Yes, exactly.
Like Flaubert's Bovary dancing at the ball,
all in the imperfect.

A waltz, hayseeds in high collar.

The ear must be pleased and satisfied.
There needs to be texture,
the aural and verbal equivalent of *crunch*,
You stupid, stupid git.

Cathy Lomax: Swirling and twirling through movie ballrooms

© 2013 L. Ryan

i keep charles bernstein alive

the topical index: found poetry, stolen ideas

i keep charles bernstein alive
on my google reader, breathing
in and out, in part a labor of sympathy,
but mostly, oh hell, consternation at someone
living well from such a thing as poetry.

and tending to its sustenance
and tending to its well-being

so he blogged about
(how round that is on the tongue:
goose fat, chocolate globules)
so he blogged about

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th edition.
(and tending to its sustenance
and tending to its well-being)

seal with a ball,
he made a point:

"The index alone is worth the price of admission.
Here is “F” from the topical index (available on-line):

fractal verse
Frankfurt school
frottola and barzelletta
furor poeticus"

scratching for its sustenance
snickering behind the hand at the sadness of its well-being

so i thought -- all sibilant -- i can do that, too,
and maybe with a square on my seal nose
(so long as you under-inflate the geometry),

and so i give you a salacious sample from segment S:


no wait no wait i always get these things
confused, encyclopedic poetry
and fizz in your mouth nazi

 (who takes their poetry encyclopedic?

what i meant to say, in the spirit of sustenance,
in pursuit of our collective well-being, was this:

"Sanskrit poetics
Sanskrit poetry
Scotland, poetry of
Scottish Gaelic poetry.
Sephardic poetry.
Serbian poetry
Siamese poetry.
Sindhi poetry.
Sinhalese poetry.
Slavic poetics.
Slovakia, poetry of
Slovenian poetry
Somali poetry
South Africa, poetry of
South America, poetry of.
Spain, poetry of
Spanish America, poetry of
Spanish prosody"

*hat tip to C. Bernstein's 22 January 2013 entry at Jacket2

Author notes

"Found poetry" both irritates and titillates me, because I once lived with The Next Great American Novelist, and all that he could do was shush me so as to better overhear what the person at the next table was saying... which was all good until the game began when we got home to his fine, big desk -- a find at the San Francisco landfill, refinished and taking up half of "our" living room -- and his leaky fountain pen (snicker!). Then began the "elevated" or "ridiculized" perversion of the act of creation, always, somehow, making fun of those folks who had just been trying to chat and share a good meal.  Occasionally, Charles Bernstein brings on that same feeling.  [This is the space that ought to be dedicated to a humble homage making much mention of my extreme admiration for Charles Bernstein]

credit: Vince Gotera: The Man with the
Blue Guitar --
Erasure Poetry

© 2013 L. Ryan

Measure of Devotion

Father's Day, for me, is a shameful day. Understand, please, that the shame is mine, not his.  I don't know that this is an objective truth;  It is, however, the truth I have decided upon.

"Honor thy father and thy mother" is the fifth commandment in the Christian Top Ten, and the first commandment to add a Carrot to the Stick.

Honor your father and your mother,

that your days may be long

in the land which the Lord your God gives you

--Exodus 20:12 (RSV)

One of my favorite off-the-cuff and exceedingly clever remarks to make? "Ew, that is so Old Testament!"

I am, for some reason, surrounded by Catholics and Muslims.  Those who do not willingly self-identify usually tend to be Buddhists, and live on my various porches for up to three years at a time.  (They also bathe the least, but smell the best. Should you ever do a smell test of your spiritually-diverse household, I think you'll find that observation holds up.)

Bringing up the Old Testament to Catholics, or almost any one, really, is a wonderfully scathing thing to say in response to some undeserved harsh judgment. Sort of the "your mama" of theological cat fights.

After dropping out of college during my second semester, being disowned, and running away to the Smallish Big City, I worked 60-hour weeks as a nurse's aide in what was euphemistically called the "neurological post-intensive care unit." (Think squash, peas, corn, eggplant.)

Much of the reason for my belly-flop into the rich murky pool of life came from opening the box inside my head.  Growing up, all Serious Issues and Problems were discussed in closed-door scary sessions in the Master Bedroom on the Big Bed, my father pontificating and my stepmother applying cold cream to her face and neck, after fifteen minutes of standing on her head to avert Alzheimer's Disease.  When our "discussions" were about sad and irreparable things, Dad imparted the same advice, always:

"Put it in that box up in your head, lock the box, and throw away the key."

The smart-alek in me replied, in that same echo chamber of a head referenced above, "How the hell do I open the box to insert new bad memories, if every time, I toss the darn key?"

So it was as if I were the world's first free woman that I set out to live, and that jarring motion may have had some effect on what was, after all, an ancient lock and an ancient box, neither of which had I ever treasured.  The box in my head, built, after all, by a child, held some unwieldy, sharp-edged, and inappropriate adult things, and who knew what else, in its murky bottom.  All held together by Elmer's glue, bubble gum, oddly beautiful carved mortise and tenon joints, plus a significant sample of through dovetail joinery, a revered technique. A disparate box, my box.

Toward the end of my free times, much of which we will leave in the fogs of oblivion, I lived with Baber, a drop-dead gorgeous woman who suffered various addictions -- to cocaine, marijuana, tequila, moonshine, psilocybin mushrooms, cigarettes, and sex.   I was sleeping with the husband of a bisexual friend -- actually both Baber and I were -- in exchange for unlimited organic carrot juices at his (and her) downtown health food store -- also for pot and blueberry shine.

I became quite enamored of blueberry shine, and also, yes, of dandelion wine.

Sometimes, in lieu of a large life-sustaining carrot juice, I'd opt for a half-hour in the steam cabinet tucked in a corner of the herb-and-potions area of the back storeroom before catching the bus to tend to the brain dead.  I kept track of what I earned and owed in a bizarre mental ledger, using original mathematics and futuristic algorithms.  Lots of criss-crossing arrows in my accounts, on my account.

That still left too much time in ratio to my angst-ridden, caffeine-driven youth, so I toyed with this course and that course, using up precious elective credits at a good local university.

I had all that space of the excavated brain box to fill, and so I did. It was a rich time and rich times cost you.

Baber was lots of fun, for a while, until her Probation Officer began dropping by too often, and for the wrong reasons. If you get my blaring drift.  Since Baber ran into the bathroom and stood in the shower whenever he drove up, her PO and I became pretty good friends.  He'd always bang on the bathroom door on his way out, after a good 45 minutes of waiting for her to get clean, and sing her some version of "See you next month, Baber Baby."

Toward the end of our year together, The Baber lost her job as a Respiratory Therapist, became a short-skirted frilly-pantied waitress, began to deal coke out of our apartment (she had, believe it or not, a hollow-ended pool cue that sometimes came into play), and received her second Driving Under the Influence citation. Actually, I think these things are listed in the wrong order. It all seemed to happen at the same time, belying cause-and-effect neatness.

Part of Baber's DUI sentence included the temporary suspension of her driver's license. She insisted I go to court with her that long ago early morning, getting us there right on time in her jaunty Toyota stick shift, expertly maneuvering into a very tight -- but choice -- parking spot three-quarters up a tree-lined, steep, and narrow street.

I learned to drive in a pristine vintage  1965 baby blue Cadillac, which resembled nothing so much as a boat, after which I was gifted with a white 1963 Ford Falcon, my first automotive love. That was the extent of my experience as a driver. (Please note that as I got older, so did my cars.)   So it was no surprise, to me, at least, that I almost got us killed on the way home. We lived in a mountain town, a hilly mountain town, to boot, which helped not at all as I struggled to hold my place in line at stop signs without smashing the car behind or ramming the car in front, and to respond to Baber's barked, detox-driven instructions.

After that, my roomie called on her many other friends to get her from points A-to-B to wherever. I noticed that a few of her chauffeurs were cops, just as I had noticed a shy and blushing warmth between Baber and the traffic judge.  When I dared asked if she'd be violated on parole, she laughed.

I remember a strong feeling of disconnect during the final weeks of living with Baber. I was working Night Shift at the hospital so as to free up my days and evenings for two classes: "The Bible as Literature" and "The History of Western Civilization, Part One."

People like to play the game of "where were you when...?" -- I guess because it creates a reassuring collective, something we had more of when we were less evolved. Where were you when John Kennedy was shot, and Robert? Where were you when you heard that Reverend King had been assassinated, that four were dead in Ohio? Where were you when they tore down the Berlin Wall, when Nixon resigned? When Lennon fell, and George died, 2Pac got shot, and Pinochet waltzed off scot-free? Where were you when the Challenger blew up, when the Twin Towers came down? When Michael Jackson overdosed, when Obama won the election, when the market crashed?  When those babies were mowed down in Newtown?

Where was I when I first encountered Plato's man in a cave, chained both fore and aft to his fellows, facing a blank wall, that blank tablet on which was cast the shadows of things?

Where was I when I was washed in the darkness of the Allegory of the Cave? Turns out, it was one experience that took place at two different times. Once at its first reading, in that mountain city, in the campus library, where I sat peering out a huge plate glass window at the golden light, sun setting. The bookend of the experience came 6 or 7 years later. I was walking down Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley, and came upon a beautiful blue shoe, a woman's pump in raw silk. One left shoe and I was awash in the arbitrary nature of the sign, and in what Plato makes Socrates call "truth."   It had to be about noon, because for the memory to work, there can't be much in the way of shadow.

It occurs to me, after having it pointed out by many a friend, that the first chills at reading Plato's Allegory of the Cave may be a major life event that is peculiar to my life, and not, say, anyone else's.  I cannot believe that to be true.  I cannot afford that to be true.  One of the only ways I can imagine sustaining a belief that I am my brother's keeper or my sister's keeper, is that we were once all chained together, in the dark.

I had all that space of the excavated brain box to fill, and so I did. It was a rich time and rich times cost you.

All while the proper vocabularies were leeching onto my thoughts, Baber was introducing me to a sensual world more frightening than arousing. One night, when final papers were coming due, and I could get no breaks from work, I met her and the married man we shared for another late night cup of coffee.  "Let me give you some NoDoz," she offered, releasing Phil long enough to go scrounge around in her lingerie drawer.  I took those Black Beauties with a slug of coffee after she explained it was an off brand of the all-nighter's friend.  I know you won't believe me, because she didn't, nor her snickering friends the next day -- but I fell quickly and deeply asleep.

I was as if lost at Baber's place, never feeling it even half mine, despite paying half the rent. We had the second story of a huge and beautiful house, a place kept by an airline pilot in case he was ever grounded there, or so the story went.  I never met Captain So-and-So, and all my rent checks went to Baber. People tend to roll their eyes when I tell them that but if there was a scam, I still don't get it.

Were the Captain to visit, the downstairs floor was his, and it was... something.  Everything in leather that could be, the whole in black and white. The latest in electronics, a semi-loft space, some nicely exposed brick. A kitchen that made me nervous because all surfaces were flat, opaque, and smooth, no place to boil water. When I dared break away from Baber's crowd, from Phil and worries of Marion, Phil's wife, I'd bring my few dates down to that lair. All of them were male nurses from work -- most of them with pills in their pockets.  We played pool and watched TV.  Okay, there was a huge, huge waterbed, but mostly we'd just gently bounce and float around and laugh until it got too cold.

Oh, Marion.  A fiery woman, with matte black dyed hair, under five feet tall, with huge mesmerizing breasts.  She had a voice like a rottweiler, considered herself a psychic, and missed nothing.  Nothing.

Imagine smoking a joint, the usual "hello, darlin'" gift from Phil, who was soon lounging on his back beneath my straddling legs and swaying torso, and having the phone ring, knowing it was her. I always answered.  We firmed up dinner plans, or picked a movie to go see. Then I'd pass the phone to Phil and they'd discuss the retributions of that day's astrology forecast and why Phil Junior was failing art class.

It was months before my fresh squeezed carrot juices were served up by Marion with such a slam on the store counter that my uniforms all bore streaks of orange.  Baber said my mistake was not sleeping with Marion, too. The spaces in my head;  Oh, the spaces in my head!

Phil and Marion had us both stay over at their house for Christmas Eve and a wild party, after which the growing throng formed a huge snake of a massage train, and then everyone passed out in one of the sleeping bags piled beside the tree, against the stairs. I woke up at 4 AM with Phil Junior wiggling into mine, and could never look Marion in the eye again. It was hard not to grill him about his art class issues.

My work at the hospital was rarely fulfilling, so if the Allegory of the Cave rocked my world, imagine my stupefaction when faced with the poet Isaiah, with Socrates drinking hemlock because his principal and the Superintendent of the School District deemed his teaching impious, too snarky for impressionable students. You see?  Nothing is new.

Time in that Smallish Big City was not a waste. I made good and lasting friends, earned easy college credits, and saved most of my money. I met a man and fell in love.  I met lots of men, in fact, mostly guys from Baber's restaurant work, a place that featured acoustic sets three nights a week. I generally found a band member or two in the kitchen, searching desperately for coffee, happy to let me brew a strong pot while they played a gentle guitar in the living room. Baber was never an early riser. It really was a wonderful thing, once I got over the surprise and knew not to nurture any expectations of privacy.

Sharing a good cup of coffee with a softly singing guitar-playing man who expects nothing from you except, perhaps, a refill, and maybe some toast.  There are times I can go right back there, to then, and rest. Just be.

But as someone famously said, about something else entirely: "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold..."  I had all that space of the excavated brain box to fill, and so I did. It was a rich time and rich times cost you.

Is it fair to gloss over, as if it were slick, as if it were nothing, the fact that I fell in love?  His name was Bill.  He was two years older, and I met him on the neuro floor, after he'd had brain surgery to remove an aggressive cancer.  Bill was...

A perfect world would let me leave it at that. A better writer would leave it at that:  "Bill was..." Instead, Bill was perfect for my degraded box, something so beautiful, so good, so unaware of sadness, but, finally, he was just a gorgeous tragedy, something that makes you cry and become incoherent after five shots of tequila. That's about when I get the order of salt, lime, and shot all mixed up, and everyone is laughing at me, and I weep.  There were days up in those mountains when I desired The Box That Dad Built, just to tuck Bill in it., and save him from the notice of the gods.

Baber had a gun that somehow made its way under my pillow, a lumpy comfort. I held it through some long nights.

The man I loved was called home, where two years later he died of the brain tumor that introduced us.  He belonged in a different world -- his parents had already started an evangelical organization in his name, a premortem postmortem gesture that bordered on the grotesque. They knew we weren't having consensual Bible Study, and demanded him back. I was reckoned unworthy and a corrupting influence.

Bill had some fame in their region of the world, as a Junior Olympian skier. He was compact and hard and had a low center of gravity, which made him fearless on steep slopes. But brain tumors and skiing don't mix. I helped him in his dying by calling his Ohio home every afternoon at two, by order of his mother, and coaxing him to take his nap.  How I came to have such authority, I never knew.  The implications are not, I think, good.

The day before he died, she dialed the phone for him, so that I could hear at 10 AM his arguments against the 2 PM nap, which amounted to: "I don't want to take a nap.  Why do I have to take a nap?  Where are you?" Of course, I had to decipher his slurred speech as if it were an obscure dialect of a language I once knew, but we settled the matter amicably, and I even arranged for him to have a car ride with his Dad after the damned nap.  Just as I was about to hang up, Billy launched into a refrain.  "I don't want to take a nap.  Why do I have to take a nap?  Where are you?"

I could feel splinters of Dad's box piercing my cerebrum, carving idols on the inside of my skull. I wondered if there were room up there for Bill's tumor, if it could slosh around in me while he headed back to the Alps, sexy, long-haired, and triumphant, back to Val d'Isère, where he had tumbled a long stretch of a crazy, icy race course, in full seizure the whole way.

His Mom sent me a framed picture of him a few weeks later -- his eyes sparkling, black hair in the wind, about a year before they knew those nasty cells were even there, taken on a sunny day at a blue, blue lake -- he had scared her to death by water-skiing on his bare feet, she wrote.  I can still feel the weight of him, perfectly distributed over the length of my body, head-to-head, toe-to-toe. I can barely remember him asking over and over:  "Where are you?"

I felt a failure at 19. I spent 50-60 hours a week talking to people who literally oozed, were unable to talk, and, I pray, unable to hear my insipid chatter. Telling their parents, their pregnant wives and their lost-without-her husbands that "you never know..."

Three times, when one of these vegetative-state patients exhibited repetitive autonomic movement that had no meaning whatsoever, their gathered, excited relatives offered me 50 dollars.  Fifty dollars, each time. Folded up in shaking, liver-spotted hands.  Never mind that my presence had nothing to do with their loved one's exhibition: How did they all choose $50 as the sum to offer their Angel of Reawakening?  Is there a rule, some book of ancient wisdom about how to tip the person who so irritates your vegged-out beloved that she starts to wave her arms about, that his eyes may flutter open for a moment, or even stare?  Baber, former respiratory therapist turned waitress, explained to me that since each event was preceded by deep suctioning of their breathing tubes, the ensuing jerks and tics were much more my fault than anything to my credit.

One young man really did wake up -- just like in one of those tabloid newspaper stories, or Reader's Digest.  He was a motocross wannabe, just fourteen, and had somehow managed to run a railroad tie through most of his brain. Because of his age, the neurosurgeon made a show of trying to save him, but he ended up in our care, in a swooshy room full of ventilators and like-minded people who were rotated with clockwork precision, while sucking down nutrition via n/g tubes.  Their food was always a thick white liquid.  When the time came that it spilled, for one reason or another, from their esophagus into their trachea, that's when they'd develop the blessing of pneumonia, and, if half-assedly fought by a benevolent physician, they could finally die.

This kid did the pneumonia thing and everything. Bed sores galore -- something that always broke my heart and against which I fought with much energy. I kept my patients' bony protuberances clean and dry, I rubbed them red, lotioned them up, and called forth circulation like a Siren. He had severe contractures, despite stretches and splints.   Then one day, he woke up.  I wasn't even suctioning him.  His grandparents made the customary $50 offering, while I burst into tears and, looking like a cartoon character, tried to find someone who might know what to do next, because, though debilitated, this guy was agitated and strong.  

He was soon sent to an extended rehabilitation facility.  I went to visit, feeling all proud and excited, bearing gifts for The Boy Who Woke Up. My ego muttered in my ear that maybe I did have something to do with it, maybe this was a sign unto me, as well as the gift of a new life for him.

His grandparents were there, of course, and looked to have aged 20 years in the few weeks since I'd last seen their happy faces. Grim now, and angry looking, they took my arrival as their chance to go to the cafeteria.  No handshakes slipping me money, they asked instead for change, as the sandwiches down there were all in vending machines, $1.25.

The Boy Who Woke Up threw a full bed pan at me, and did little verbalizing beyond vehement curses, all clearly enunciated and, I suppose, from his point of view, appropriate.

The precariousness of everything became too much, and not long after visiting the Young Lazarus, I loaded the gun.  (Baber had hid the bullets where she hid everything else, the lingerie drawer.)  Out of deference to Phil, I moved the now lethal weapon from beneath my pillows to my closet.  But you and I know where it always was, sitting in my brain, my brain trained to box-build.

And I doubt that Phil was fooled, for Phil did not care.

And I know that Baber was not fooled, though she'd resent me for blood splatter, and for lost rent.

It had been well over a year since I had called "home." As if it were a habit, I picked up the phone and dialed the numbers like an automaton.

The rift between me and my father is bottomless and so wide I cannot see the other side.

"Please come get me," I whispered.

"I'll be there tomorrow afternoon," Dad said. "Be ready to go."

Click.  He didn't ask for directions, which left me holding the inked-up envelope for naught.  His voice was not soft, loving, guilt-ridden, or forgiving, but he was there the next day, and I was packed.  He did not come inside, and I imagine he stopped somewhere just before arriving, to use the restroom, maybe, and eat.

We drove the nine hours in silence, without a pause, and I was led to my old bedroom like a guest unfamiliar with the layout of the house.

I may have had 3 semester hours for the apt completion of "The Bible as Literature" class, but I had forgotten, let's say, that though Deuteronomy and Exodus are credited with the Ten Commandments, they cannot hold a candle to the grave legislation of Leviticus, written around the time of the Babylonian exile..

"You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:32).   Reverence, fear, curse, honor, obey, mock, scorn, contempt -- Biblical parent language is loaded language.

I remember sitting in that sterile room, as sterile as when I was enshrined there, admiring its fine appointment, its matchy-matchy with just enough pop to merit a mention in a regional interior decorator's quarterly.  And I felt the pressure building in my head, that old familiar weight and space of rotted wood, bad memories, and a green tarnished brass-clasp lock being reclaimed by my willing return to repression.

For this, I had traded a gun and a litany of sins.

As I write this, it has been 23 years since I have spoken with or seen my father.  I'll never again speak with him in this world; I think of him everyday, which does neither him nor me any good, but is, in all honesty, the best I can do. I know you think otherwise but I am able to look you squarely, clearly, cleanly in the eye, without shame.

Sometimes, usually early in the morning, in kitchens without musicians, the man I loved long dead, this other man here with me for decades now, and Baber's rabid enthusiasm finally understood as the self-medicated manic phase of bipolar disease, I also know that I could have done better.  Is there shame in surviving?

I talk to Dad at night sometimes, telling him of my lasting, my endurance -- the things that might matter to that military man and his ram-rod postures.

That's the last full measure of my devotion.

Sometimes the box in my mind is purposefully closed, purposefully locked, its warped woods clumsily and unevenly reconstituted.  Sometimes it breaks apart on its own, discharging not the horror and evils of the whorling, whoring world, but also what must be called its realities.

Sometimes shining hope, the great last line, is not so much a crackerjack prize lain at the vessel's bottom, underneath all the rest, but is the stark and ugly reminder of choices and consequences -- there's no blaming the gods and their pranks and ploys.

Sometimes hope is a loaded gun, never forgotten, never really gone, pristine, ready.

© 2013 L. Ryan

My Guy Went Dancing With Miss Kitty At The Lutheran Church

Tonight my guy went dancing,
contra dancing, lines weaving,
precision and fun in some Lutheran church.
"Uh-oh," I thought, as I smiled at him.

He presses shiny grey strips of duct tape
to the bottoms of his dancing shoes
to keep from too much slipping, too much sliding,
because you know you cannot trust a Lutheran floor.

(The last time my guy went dancing,
contra dancing courtship, lines all weaving,
he did great, he lamented, until they were leaving
and he fell down the last three gymnasium steps.)

Tonight my guy went dancing, goatee neatly trimmed,
and whether he picked Miss Kitty up at her house
or whether she met him there, I pretend
no need to know or care, for they're just dancing, dancing, dancing there..

It's still hard, hard to stomp down ugly paisley-patterned jealousy,
hard not to giggle at the Lutheran sweat part of that toe-tappin' floor --
Lutheran teens are told to consider, first, whether to dance
is to lust, is worldy, not chaste, and I laugh from the belly

to learn there is legitimate dance, like legitimate
rape, and my guy went out dancing with Kitty,
drove her in my car, turning and strutting on Luther's split pine
badly varnished, sin-soaked floor.

© 2013 L. Ryan