I had jury duty yesterday. I expected it to be a minor crime at most, a one to three day event. Instead it was a violent murder-rape-kidnapping-burglary case. I was dismissed because I will be out of the county when the case opens. (As the judge said with a smile, the poet and the businessmen are dismissed.) Three people raised their hands to say they had health reasons which prevented them from being able to serve. One man said he was deaf and proceeded to answer all the questions the judge asked him. A woman said she had a seizure disorder, that in fact she had a doctor's appointment in twenty minutes and was out of her meds. Another man said he couldn't see, but he left with his car keys in hand.
Oh, man, I have this stomach virus that keeps hanging on. I hate this. I wonder if it started with what my parents called "public food." I went to a fund raiser last week and ate some public food. Whenever I eat something from a buffet, I think of my parents' comments. And of the time when I was a kid, and we ate at such an event. And one sister accused another of blowing boogers into the blue cheese salad dressing. We were in a crowd, and once the accusation was made, we all had to start yelling about it--all 6 kids. I don't think blue cheese dressing has ever been appealing since that day . . .
Ah well. I was going to write about how I had a gig at Kent today but alas, I can't make and, and instead I am writing about blue cheese dressing.
There are aspects of a large family one never recovers from.
I have a friend who claims to be psychic. Once when I asked her to say what she saw when she looked at me, she said my days are divided between the days I eat chocolate, and the days I don't. It wasn't true before she said it.
A man asked a woman in Starbucks if chocolate was really better than sex. It depends on the chocolate, she answered.
A friend of mine told me you know when chocolate is your real lover when you start hiding it. Esp. the evidence afterwards.
I'm not sure whether it was AWP or just the recent snow storm, but I've got a case of the winter blues. Just the way of things I guess. And I don't mean to blame AWP because I did love seeing friends there. It's one of the few places I see some of my favorite folks. And there were the usual highlights: many wonderful readings and panels and books to buy and so on. All the good things, and then a few moments that were hard to deal with. Like the last few conversations I had at AWP. One in particular was with a man I didn't know who went to one of the nonresidency MFA programs and hasn't published since then. He's angry and he and his friends asked me a lot of angry questions such as. . . Did I think that MFA programs would just let a student in (even if he lacks all talent or future potential) because he could pay? How many of these 7000 participants do you guess are MFA students or grads? Do you think talent is rewarded? Or is it all about who you know and what you can do for the powers that be? Do you think if a guy like me (who might have no talent) owned a press that he could get published? Do you think that's why there are so many presses? What if he ran a prestigious poetry series? Do you think there is such a thing as conflict of interest in the poetry world?
Bitterness is hard to listen to, and I will stop now. If only the conversation had stopped there.
I have a habit of staring at houses. I love it when they're lit up at night, and I can see into them from the street--the lit world of another life. I know you're not supposed to look into other homes and worlds, but if they leave the lights on, how can I not look? But there's this one house on the circle near my home that is really sweet. It has a huge porch and many windows, a back yard full of trees and deer and a creek. The house has been for sale forever. The owners keep fixing it up and fixing it up. Everything about this house looks ideal, at least to me. But what do I know? Yeah, I know--houses everywhere are for sale, but the hideous one that looks like a tomb that is a block away--it sold in a matter of weeks. As did the one that is the color of puke. And the double wide . . .
I sometimes think of my poems when I pass by these houses. I sometimes think my crappy ones get swept up right away. And the ones I like, I keep fixing up and fixing up. I can't ever fix them up enough of course. That's my curse.
It's my mom's birthday today. She's 92, and going strong. People always ask me, so how old was she when she had you? Old, my mom would have answered. She liked to tell me that having a child after 40 is more risky (genetically speaking) than having a child with your first cousin. And she'd add that that's why my uncle is autistic -- most likely. Then she'd say that you'd never breed an old cow.
My mom loved to compare folks to cows. And what she said is true. Recently the health news has been reporting these facts as if they are new. Old parents, yes even old dads (perhaps esp. in the case of autism, though I'm not sure the verdict is in on that), increase the risks for various issues for kids. It's not a popular fact these days when waiting to have children is the norm. Not something I like to think about much, considering what it might mean in my case, not that I can do much about it. And having a mom whose 92, well, that's genetics too I guess. 92. And that is old. I'm not sure I will go that long, not if I have a choice about it. And I probably do. Maybe I'll take up smoking in my 80s.
I always feel strange after AWP. As if I have to remember who I am. And then friends ask me what I did and what it was like, and I can't remember. Except I was sick at the end. That always happens at AWP. At a certain point, the urge to hurl is overwhelming.
I know I should remember something else about the conference--the readings, the panels, the book fair, the famous writers . . . . But this year I kept seeing this woman who looked like my dead cousin. She was blonde and tall and lightly freckled, and she seemed to be smoking on the other side of the twirly doors every time I was about to go through. I would stop and remember, she's dead.
It reminded me of the year I first knew someone who died. Her name was Mary. I was in first grade. She was like a grandma to me, and I kept seeing her around town after she'd passed. My mom hadn't told me she'd died, and by the time I realized she was gone, I couldn't remember what she looked like.
My dad told me you never really remember the faces of those you love, as if to comfort me. I found a photograph of Mary years later, and it looked nothing like I expected it. Sometimes I still stare at it. That's Mary? Maybe that's why I started memorizing the faces of loved ones. I still do that. I do it every day, carefully noticing scars and freckles, a change in hair color, a new strand of gray. My dad was an artist and he loved to have his kids draw, and I often pretend I am drawing people when I look at them, tracing their features in pencil. My mom always said it's rude to stare, and I do stare. How can you not want to stare? But If I look too hard at one part of someone's face, they will inadvertently reach up and touch it. Then I know I need to look away.
People often ask, what books do you love most? And why? I don't have a clue how to answer that. Some books I love because I feel as if they're so stunning. Some I love the story, some the language, some the paragraphs, some the smell, some the size, some the humor, some the mood, some the magic . . . Yes, the magic . . .
Like Brockmeier--I love him for his many, many beautiful paragraphs . . . Like this one from The Truth about Celia:
Here is Celia, running like a rabbit through the sunlight, on a day so perfectly pitched between winter and spring that she can feel streamers of warm air in the wind. The grass looks willowy and tender, and she very much wants to take off her shoes and flatten it beneath her feet, but her mom told her that if she went pounding around barefoot outside she might catch something. She is afraid of catching something. When she was six, she caught the flu, and when she was five she caught the chicken pox. She stops by the pond and looks into the water, creased by the breeze. There is a cluster of minnows swimming just beneath the surface, and when she tries to touch one they scatter away in a spray of silver Vs . . .
Okay that's not even the best one, but it's a first one I remember reading, the opening to the book . . .
One of my favorite Brockmeier's is the story, "A Fable of White Paper Spilling from the Pockets," which begins: Once there was a man who happened to buy God's overcoat. He was rummaging through a thrift store when he found it hanging on a rack by the fire exit . . .
Another good book, and a huge contrast, is the graphic novel, Fun Home, which is one of a kind--totally new to me, at least. I don't think I've read a book so honest. I totally believe every second of this book by Alison Bechdel. And I am suddenly aware that I've never really believed any of the memoirs or autobiographies or so-called confessional poems before this one. This one feels so totally real. Maybe because some of the story is mine, because I see my dad in this dad, but only a tiny bit of my dad. Maybe because it's a graphic novel. Maybe because it is.
But there is no singular paragraph or moment in the book . . . . And I don't mean that as a negative. Just that I usually have a page in a book that I remember better than any other page--a particular memory or thought or image or . . .
And with many books, all I need is to love one particular page, and the book is a winner.
Then there is Chris Barzak who dares to try to do everything I would like to do but can't ever try at the same time. In his new book,The Love We Share Without Knowing,--there's the personal tale, magical realism, the bigger than life issues--okay--life and death issues, the love story or the lack of love-- story, and the twisted myths and fairy tales of and for a strangely twisted world . . . and, and . . . . There is one character living on another's life stories. (Something I am so guilty of--always have been, feeding on other's tales as if they were a way to survive . . . though in the story it becomes dangerous to do so ). And his stories are connected like pieces of stained glass window, all the light shining together to make it a short story collection that is a novel . . .
Then there is this book, No Other Life, by Gary Young, which I bought ages ago and thought was boring. I picked it up a few months ago, and it's become one of those books I keep in arms reach. I don't know what he does and don't want to know or say right now because if I analyze something when the magic is happening, it stops the magic every time.
And then there's Galleano's --The Book of Embracess, a best- best friend, and Rick Bursky's The Soup of Something Missing, and of course, Henri Michaux's everything. And there's always the out of print The Prose Poem, an International Anthology, which is in so many pieces, floating around my office, and if I could ever find one, new and in working order, I'd be in heaven . . .
And then there's Michael Ondaatje's Elimination Dance. It's incredibly funny.
And of course, there are the children's books I totally love . . . Esp. books long out of print with pretty pictures like my copy of The Arabian Nights with illustrations by Maxfield Parish . . .
So many books, too many I guess, and yet never enough.