Saturday, December 19, 2009

Villanelle: Two Chairs

The Painted Chairs

I dream the perfect canvas I dare not miss
With bluegrass music playing in the background.
I paint two chairs curving like a woman's hips.

In wrangler jeans, a woman decides to sit
In the room. The dim lights calm her down.
She molds the chair to fit her stylish hips.

I draw a man to watch her teeth and lips
Their bodies speak in rhythms beyond sound
Like piercing eyes on a woman's hips.

“Love always slides aloof to all my grips
Like rocks skipping across water before they drown.”
Her soul speaks like an anchor thrown from a ship.

They wonder how love grows without the slip
Of trust breaking this canvas down
To fragmented parts and manipulated tricks.

“Chairs cling to the floor and wait for us to sit,”
He says. Together, they stand to hold their ground.
In bliss, he reaches her face to taste the perfect kiss.
Two chairs now one are rooted by the hips.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Poet Writes the Novelist

The poet writes the novelist
Some fragment of love he cannot plot
Through 350 pages or more.

Merely, he knows that at their core
They are the same story unfolding
The rough edges tied in a knot

That only hope and a knife can cut
Through to the climax tears
They hide in separate bedsheets.

Fears, though, succumb to sweet
Joy, our characters dancing on wood
Like no puppeteer could ever write,

For tangled in a perfect tightness,
The poet warms the novel's chapter
And feels her kiss against his neck

Of the imperfect rhyme—a wreck
This time not waiting to happen
But a surprise ending nonetheless.

The poet is thinking how much depth
The novel leaves him to discover
On a walk home through foggy streets.

He reads her loudly from cover to cover
The endless chapters drumming beats

Of love, wonder, and a waking breath
Upon the endless pile of paper sheets.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Counting Crows Review

There are many albums you can place as masterpieces because of their lyrics or the innovative music. When T. Bone Burnett produced the Counting Crows breakthrough album, August and Everything After, and The Wallflowers breakthrough masterpiece, Bringing Down the Horse, the lyrics and music mix authentically. All the listener can ask is: How can two new bands do better than this? How can they top perfection?

I might suggest they cannot, and that spell of greatness happens to all good bands. How do you top your masterpiece, especially when your masterpiece defines your career for the next few decades? Some bands arrive beyond the madness (i.e. Pearl Jam), and others still continue to climb and remain in their gentle spirits. Other bands play baseball arenas or small clubs, and there is nothing wrong with that. But, when you have struck gold and the fans are at your feet, how do these great bands handle the passage of time and breath of a new age of music?

These questions arise as I listen to the Counting Crows new album, Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings.

As a beginning fan, they have never topped their first album because we have never listened to an Adam Duritz so passionate, powerful, confused, Dylanesque. self-absorbed, and self-reflective on a record since perhaps Dylan in the 1960s. Not even Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, or Van Morrison have written lyrics on the sleeves of their internal egocentric perspectives. These great artists, particularly Dylan and Springsteen, have always reached out beyond their ordinary circumstances and spoke deeply about the changing times and the political fiascos and paradoxes harming the golden cow of the United States greed. But Duritz is a bit different. He is a confessional poet and not a political one so much.

Duritz typically does not take this external lyrical form, and maybe he should as he and his band continue to stretch the limits of their lyrical and musical visions. (Even Michael Stipe of R.E.M. has stated that he feels he writes better songs when he is writing about somebody other than himself.) Nevertheless, though the Counting Crows remain steady in their lyrical and musical certainty, I must say that this album still remains personal, self-absorbed, and powerful as it attempts to move the listeners from the mental health sometimes overwhelming Duritz and leaving them almost to the other side of the big heartache of living. Somehow, Duritz does not lie to his listeners; he does not reach to the politics of Springsteen. He tells us the truth, and we recognize that suffering will always exist with those surrounded with conditions of mental health and dissatisfaction with current existence--postmodernism at its worst and best.

Maybe that is why I like the Counting Crows so much. The band is musically sound, yet the howling or gentle voice of Duritz carries the songs to their tragic and/or uplifting conclusions. (Sounds a bit paradoxical.) And, suffering from social phobias, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, and all those other mental conditions, I relate to these lyrics. I am trapped inside the songs and cages of the Counting Crows, and I feel really good about it. Damn good, in fact.

Consider the song, "Sunday," for a moment. Sunday is the worst day of the week for me. It is that return to work, and everything that is supposed to be hormonally balanced seems to drop out of my brain. I want to scream, stay buried in my room, and just disappear. Similarly, Duritz sings,

I wanna touch you for the things I'm losing
I wanna touch you for my self-respect
Give me a reason or I might stop breathing
Give me a reason why I'm soaking wet
Gotta stop breathing cuz the sky is falling
I might go out and watch the moon explode
Give me directions to the highway crossing
I'll go lie down in the middle of the road

(Note the lyric about the moon. No, I did not give him that lyric.) Okay, the lyrics may make the traditional listeners slit their wrists, but if you have experienced the darkness of depression or the disassociative disorder that has plagued Duritz's life, these lyrics are somewhat calming and explicable.

However, in a very bipolar moment, the song, "Insignificant," pulls the listeners away from this self-destructive path and asks us all how we can reach toward that significance in our lives even though simultaneously we feel like letting go or just disappearing into the sadness of our pain.

If you see me
Wading through water
Come drown in the river
Right in front of the world
You can wash your face and hands
In the stream of my anger
It's as bright as white paper
And as dark as a girl

Yes, again we have some damaging and dark lyrics, but there is something of comfort here as I recall a line from somewhere: "Come down here, for the water is fine." It is a baptismal image of self-reliance and egocentrism, but it is the troubled attempting to relate to the rest of the world and find that path from self-destruction to perfect memory of not losing, of not harming, of picking up the pieces to a broken world and feeling okay by it.

Does the album find its way out of the pieces to the broken world? Probably not!

But isn't that the most honest answer? Isn't Duritz successfully describing his journey as many honest writers do? Is the album self-obssessed? Of course! But, so am I! But, there are also sad and true moments as he croons to his listeners: "this lithium is heroin to me." Though I do not take lithium (yet), I understand. I understand. I reallly do!

There are elements of lithium to this album similar to what Bob Dylan writes, "I am trying to get to heaven before they close the door." On the other hand, Duritz is simply trying to get beyond the lithium to see the beauty of the world, and it is a tragic struggle for all singers, poets, and common people who suffer, suffer, and suffer from varying degrees of madness.

Maybe Duritz and the band should just heed my wife's advice: "Get over it!"

Is it that easy? Can we realize the moments of majesty all the time and live in the moment of joy? Have we found that white picket fence without struggling to get there? Some artists, including myself, struggle for the "getting over," and Duritz does as well when he beautifully writes and summarizes his message of redemption:

I want a white bread life
Just something ignorant and plain,
But from the walls of Michelangelo I'm dangling again

This album dangles more like a Van Gogh painting, but it dangles toward truth according to the Counting Crows. Maybe the lyrics could be more Springsteen or Wilco or move in other directions and metaphors, but U2 has been singing the same themes from the beginning of their career even though their sound changes from album to album. All artists, as U2 sings, are "stuck in a moment that we can't get out of it."

The Counting Crows shows us these moments of beauty, madness, and suffering just as they have always done from the beginning of their career.

And, they end their album as they begin it: with sheer brokenness and hope.

Have you seen the little pieces of the people we have been?
Little pieces blowing' gently on the wind
They have flown down California
They have landed in L.A.
Little pieces slowly settling on the waves

I'm one of a million pieces fallen on the ground
It's one of the reasons when we say goodbye
We'll still come around We will come around

The Counting Crows are here again. And, I cannot wait to hear their next album as Duritz continues with his lithium prophecies. I am waiting for him to come around, while I, too, the maddening writer do the same in my mental condition.

Four out of Five Stars!

--Cataract Moon

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Dr. King, Ghandi, and Malcolm X

War reduces, depletes,
angers, and competes.
War destroys, ignites,
lingers, and deletes
the consciousness of humankind.

War may kill, fall,
maul, and repeat,
but dr. king, malcolm x, and ghandi
sit, reflect, react and sift
the consciousness of humankind.

When they die,
they stir, arise, and uplift
the eyes of youth
and old forgotten dreams
left to rot through the skin
of hollowed men and women.

and others with guns,
homebrewed bombs,
and kamikazee visions

despise, frustrate, and disengage
the rhetoric of peace
their missions skewing
the consciousness of humankind.

Until love sings again,
it lingers toward hate
beneath traps
of trigger fingers.

dr. king and malcolm x,
you stood on mountain tops
but could not relate
your vision
or escape
the terrorists on
american soil--
the violation of fate!

rise again, peace,
from the mountaintops of war.
cloak and cloud the pestilence
of every soar and sour sting
of hate and prejudice.

until we can be ghandi,
malcolm x,
and all peaceful kings.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007


i erase me tonight
beneath the light of my own disease
and beyond this bipolar plight
i bend down on my knees
and wonder if butterfly eyes
can see clearly in midflight
because beyond that dream
i erase me tonight.


Friday, December 7, 2007

Spider Web

spider web

intricate strings
run around me
frothing, overwhelming--
after the passion bites

--moon (line help from friends)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Chess: An Allegory

I play a chess game to think I can beat the chess game of life.

Pieces line up in perfect rows and roles.

And, the black queen and white king decide to play by different rules, wipe out the entire board together, and run away as winners in a different game of life.

But chess pieces do not mix well, especially when the white king can only move a few more directions than a pawn, and feel the tiredness beneath his feet until he is backed away in the corner too long.

The black queen can swiftly attack and tear down the white pieces so easily when the white king thinks for a moment that he finds pure truce in the other direction.

The human heart is like a chess board with a mix of all these pieces so unsteady when two intelligent players face the board together.

There are only a few alternatives.

1. White wins, and the black queen falls to her shameless demise.
2. Black wins, and the black king is left alone with a few pawns and knights with silent dissatisfaction.
3. Or, all the pieces on the board are wiped out, and two kings--one black and white--stare at each other in angry jealously and silence. Stalemate. The Stalemate of the very humanness of lies!

I play a chess game to think I can beat the chess game of life.

But, the game beats me as broken pieces shatter in black and white on ceramic tile.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

On Writing

Dear Readers,

We are consumed by work and assembly-line living. Do we have time to fathom the nature of the universe or explore our deepest desires through language? I hope so.

Some people naturally reveal their ideas through speaking, while caves of information remain beneath the words that are never revealed. Writing, then, represents these caves.

Explore words, and you will find treasures of thoughts taking you to the deepest core of truth

Sonnet Last: Deaf Nephew's Little League Debut

Red hair sticks out the back of your baseball
cap when you hustle to right field and blow
a bubble. Gum now hides behind the fold
in your worn glove. You are ten. The calling
chatter from the infield tells you nothing
of the ball dinging off the end of bat
and skipping through the grass. Your dad
almost knocks my drink from hand when springing
from the bench and yelling, "Charge the ball, Son!"
You watch the red threads spin. Pretending
to know the music of a smacking catch,
you snag the ball, cock back your arm, and throw
to first. "Out!" the umpire screams and sends
you the signal. One down. Two more to go.



Twirling in the air, my nephew Joe slaps the basketball off the backboard. We both hear the net swoosh before his feet reach the ground again. In amazement, I smile, stand near the imaginative free-throw line and say to him, "You know, you shoot like your daddy." Catching his own basket, Joe dribbles the ball between his legs a few times before shoving it my way. "I guess that's a compliment," he replies as he rubs his slick fingers through his blonde streaks of hair.

Scott's fingers twitch when he holds the wheel. His hands look so slender and transparent as they hang there like two weak and bare tree limbs ready to split and fall to the earth. I could nearly imagine the outline of his bones, the ulna and radius underneath his hand connecting to the steering wheel like two thin wires. "You missed the turn, Scott," I say. He stutters something in return but continues driving down Apache St. for the next Arby's on 21st. I begin wondering if I should be riding with a man who takes a daily dose of methadone to keep his drug habit off the streets. While we stop abruptly at a red light, he tells me about the treatment, but my thoughts wander to the telephone poles, to my son, to his three kids--Joe, Slater, and Robert. I try to change the subject as we pull away from the intersection. "So how's your kids?"

Robert peaks behind the sliding door and watches Joe and me play another game of Horse. Robert looks like me when I was his age, while Slater, who sits in the den and glues his eyes to the movie Anaconda, looks like my brother Scott. Ball in hand, I cannot help but lose my concentration as Robert, a replica of me, presses his lips against the glass and fogs the surface. "Shoot the ball!" Joe playfully screams as he tries to push me away from the scattered memory of my youth--my own freedom as a child who once watched Scott play catch with Dad and get yelled at because he never could throw the ball straight enough. (Sooner or later, Scott threw bad pitches to create my parent's reactions.) I reply to Joe, "I'll shoot when I'm ready."

"I used to shoot up after taking the kids to school," my brother rambles. "Sheila would be at work, so I'd have the house to myself. Sometimes I'd go to work with a bruised vein, so I'd wear a long-sleeved shirt to cover the bruises. Even in the summer. I was cold most of the time anyway, especially when the heroine kicked in." I change the subject. "Mom tells me Joe is failing math." Scott clicks on the right blinker and begins to turn the car with those fingers. Just when I thought those bones would twist and crack, he replies, "He's doing better. Just goofs off in class. Doesn't care. He's doing better." Waiting in a line of cars before ordering the meal, I think about strangling him. I think about my powerful hands wrapping around his neck and suffocating the life that is left in him. I want to tell him that Joe is failing school because of his father's selfishness, inability to grow up, manic personality. I want to crack open his skull to show him mercy, save him from bad choices, and help him drain out some of the poisons that still haunt him. I love my brother, but I say instead, "I'll take a ham-n-cheese, a potato cake, and a large mountain dew." Meanwhile, Scott rattles off the order in at least three different versions to the lady. I feel sorry for her but sit shotgun next to my brother, who calls the plays even when he is not standing on the court.



We have been married for eight years, yet the magic of life seems to have withdrawn inside of us to where those walls, those thick walls of protection, keep us apart, stop us from understanding our emotional and physical needs.

Yet Wednesday night at the Outback Steakhouse, after dropping our son at the sitter’s, you gave me reasons to see glimpses of you for the first time in a long while. Of course, we progressed in conversation as we always seem to do; we moved from movies we have seen, the struggles and stresses of our jobs, those endless daycare issues, and how we were missing our shows—though we recorded them before leaving the house.

As we left the restaurant and cruised down county line road and other back routes, I felt a sense of movement in both of us, felt a certain longing or urge for you to see my soul, see the beauty of our moments together, how your deep blue eyes and perfect teeth could somehow make a bridge with mine again.

We always seem to be locked inside two realities, though living in the same rooms, the same patterns, but for once we were driving on the open roads and talking freely about our life experiences, about memories of places we have been—places that meant something real to us.

I seemed to understand you then, to have wanted to drive forever through those roads, to draw out your voice a little deeper, to hear those sides of you nobody else sees or understands.

After picking up our son and heading home, our conversation moved in other directions, but you left me there in silence, in the midst of reflecting about what I needed for myself and what I wanted to give you. I imagined us both walking the path in our back yard, which led to our little pond. I desired to escape there with you and move into that boat in that romantic pond we never seem to explore anymore. Isn’t that why we bought the house? To escape to the pond, to talk nonsense beneath the stars, to look deeply into each other’s eyes and say those real and meaningful words, “I still need you. I’m still learning from you. You still surprise me.”

As we nearly approached the house, I daydreamed at greater length. I saw us paddling the boat into the middle of a cold moonlight. I saw us floating in the middle of something awkward yet beautiful. I sensed your desire to give up your emotional detachment from me and yearn for the purity and stubbornness of my heart. I imagined you lighting up your cigarette and inhaling a fluid that smokes your heart. It released me too, freed me to think about us, about the connections between the moonlight, my green searching eyes and your own blue eyes. As the smoke escaped into your lungs, I was beginning to understand the beauty of our silences on the pond. That cigarette was somehow a key that would unlock and release our spirits. It might be the source for allowing me to follow those rising smoke rings to the bottom of your beautiful heart.

But that vision of smoke rings and water is painful to realize, for we didn’t move into our little lake. Instead, we moved into our little house and sensed that awkwardness again. Our son was cranky, and you’re tired as well, and your stomach ached from the rawness of that steak at Outback. While I settled our son into bed, I looked forward to returning to our room and lighting a candle and just talking to one or two in the morning like we used to do in our college days. But when I returned, you were already asleep in our bed. You were exhausted and still wearing that sexy pink shirt that you found at TJ Maxx for only nine dollars. I lit a candle in our room anyway and for a while watched you sleep, listened to your breathing lungs rising and falling with your dreams. From your moment of perfect stillness and motion, I knew I couldn’t love you, knew that I would never understand my perfect woman, my beautiful blonde lover.

Writing and Legos

James Dickey once wrote a poem about his son who would "play, play inside his play, and play inside of that." Dickey's words describe a child's concentration and his entrance into that great world of fantasy and imagination, but these words also relate to my vision of writing and education. Despite the fact that some teachers across the world train you to speak and write correctly and to follow a strict adherence to guidelines and rules, Dickey offers you another vision of writing and language: play.

I enjoy watching my son tinker with his Legos or his Lincoln Logs, for he does not simply construct a car or house according to how the instructions show him. He connects the blue Lego with the yellow, looks at it a while, and, if he doesn't like the construction, he picks another color and starts over again. Normally, he doesn't get frustrated because it's all play to him. In the end, if the spaceship he's building fails, he knows that he can begin fresh and attempt another innovative construction.

And writing and education should resemble this same play. You should learn to tinker with ideas and write about them without consequences. At times, teachers (including me) are so worried about you communicating effectively that we sacrifice philosophical inquiry and innovation for correctness. When this kind of compromise happens repeatedly, I sense that you might stop asking the difficult questions or taking chances with metaphor, style, and structures.

Gaston Bachelard advises writers on the writing process: "How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream." However, too many students and teachers fear the freedom of the blank page, as hands cramp from an endless lack of ideas. They dread the insecurity of allowing the pen to dance quickly across the page to explore its whiteness. They worry about what the dance will look like instead of where that dance will take them.

My son always focuses on where the dance will take him. If he ever looks down at the Lego pile scattered across our living room carpet, I wonder if he would ever finish a product. Nevertheless, he does not stare down the myriads of colors and say, "There are too many to choose from." He simply digs into the pile and never thinks if they will fit together perfectly. Honestly, they don't always fit together in any coherent pattern, but he learns on his own which patterns work and which ones need discarding.

So, my advice to you is to play with words, with ideas, with the various directions the pen, pencil, or computer will take you. Play inside those patterns. And play inside of them again. Until finally, you say to yourself, "How did I get here? And where was I going in the first place?" When you start thinking in these forms, you will find yourself more found than lost.