Thoughts from the road

Yesterday, I took a break from my day job as a technical writer for a large corporation, a corporation with many technical writers on three continents, so I am really just a small cog in a large technical writing wheel. But I took a day off to drive for two and a half hours down the Florida peninsula to visit my dentist in the leafy, family-friendly (their words, not mine), Ft. Lauderdale bedroom community of Coral Springs. I have always been averse to the term ‘bedroom community’ as it infers that little else happens in those communities, other than that which occurs in the bedroom, and I find that very restrictive and narrow. I have never heard of a community described as a ‘kitchen community’ or a ‘garage community’, or God forbid ‘bathroom community’. So, I cosign ‘bedroom community’ to the list of words and phrases that I dislike (‘bucket list’ being another that comes immediately to mind, but that’s another blog).

But I digress, and it’s not the trip to Coral Springs, Florida, nor the expensive dental work that I will soon require that I am thinking about today, but rather the journey on the highway, Interstate 95, an especially neutered stretch of road that strays just far enough from both the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and Florida’s Everglades on the other, so as to give the traveler a taste of neither. The great New York to Miami artery pumps commerce in both directions (north and south); there are big trucks, little trucks, Lexus, Hyundai, Fords, Silverado trucks, and ninja bikes all on their way to everywhere, and to nowhere.

There are no named rest areas on I-95 either, just numbers – MM 302 St. Augustine; MM225 Mims; MM133 Ft. Pierce. No need for snack bars or fuel. Take care of yourself fellow traveler. This is America, learn to fend for yourself. Look for your bootstraps cowboy, they’re right where you left them. Check the names of the missing teenagers on the bulletin board by the restroom and move along. Do your business. Say your piece and get out. South Beach waits at the end of the road. The mouse is an hour to the west.  A couple of  hours past that, sultry Tampa Bay hoists a subtle middle finger, asking us not so politely to  stay away.

The particular journey that I was on yesterday was only a couple of hundred miles, but it was enough to remind me of longer road trips I have taken, and the therapeutic benefits that I have achieved while on such journeys. And there is therapeutic value, believe me. Try driving from Spokane to St. Paul and you’ll see what I mean. Nothing can connect you with the voice inside your head like the high desert. The current buzzword, ‘mindfulness’, or being extremely aware of the moment and focusing on it and living in it is a close description but does not do the experience justice. Hearing yourself can be achieved through use of a number of relaxation techniques, but actually paying attention to what you are hearing is quite another matter and becoming excited about what you are hearing is still another.

Frederic Will, in his classic 1992 book, “Big Rig Souls” explores this phenomenon among America’s long-haul truck drivers. In this book, which is a short, but scholarly look at the American truck driver, Will strips away the media conjured myth of the truck driver as the last American cowboy and explores their relationship with their jobs, their families, their machines, the trucking industry, and more importantly, their personal journey both in and out of the trucking world.

In one chapter, Will interviews a driver who says that it is not unusual for drivers to stop at a coffee shop after a long run on the road and begin to unload with a plethora of ideas to anyone who will listen. ‘Foolishness’, this talk is described as being, and the driver will often continue to unload his thoughts for several minutes until realizing he has made no sense at all.

But what if this phenomenon is not nearly as foolish as it first appears. Maybe these long-haul drivers have simply tapped into a source of creativity that is lying just beneath the surface ready to be revealed. Maybe this type of mental brainstorming is not detrimental at all and may in fact be more transformative than it first appears?

I have always found writing and long-distance driving to be compatible partners and I have felt some of my greatest bursts of creativity while ‘on the road’. So, don’t go out and push yourself on a nonstop Seattle to Atlanta cannonball run just to finish the last chapter of your novel, but if you have had similar experiences with this type of focus and clarity coming to you while driving, I would like to hear from you. Disclaimer: Of course, obey all traffic laws, don’t drive when you are too tired, buckle up and most importantly — no drinking (until you are safely back at the keyboard).

Does doggerel poetry matter?

“doggerel” Merriam-Webster.com. 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com (4 June 2021)
dog-ger-el: loosely styled and irregular in measure especially for burlesque or comic effect
also: marked by triviality or inferiority.

I have to confess, I had not heard the term ‘doggerel’, or more specifically, of ‘doggerel poetry’ until a couple of years ago. Strangely, I came across the term while reading an online article about Bonnie Parker. Bonnie Parker, if you recall, was one half of the infamous Bonnie and Clyde crime duo. Bonnie and Clyde, or to be more inclusive, the Barrow gang. The Barrow gang cut a wide swath across America’s heartland back in the 1930s, robbing small businesses and a couple of banks (contrary to popular belief they were not ‘Robin Hood-esqe’ bank robbers of popular culture and myth). They killed anyone who got in their way and managed to elude the law for over two years before they were gunned down in a roadside ambush in Louisiana in May of 1934.

In any case, prior to dying in a hail of bullets, Bonnie had been jailed on a number of other miscellaneous charges. During her time in the slammer, Bonnie busied herself by writing poetry. More specifically, the article reported that Bonnie spent her time in jail smoking Camel cigarettes and writing doggerel poetry. So, of course I jotted that down in my blog-book so that someday I could write a bit about it here on EEOTPB. And of course, that day has arrived.

There are numerous examples of Bonnie’s poetry on the internet, so it’s no secret she liked to write. But I will not link to any of her doggerel poetry here. The Barrow gang are believed to be responsible for thirteen murders, nine of them police officers, so I will end my personal introduction to ‘doggerel poetry’ at this point.


But doggerel poetry has a long history, tracing its roots to Geoffrey Chaucer, who coined the term  ‘rym doggerel’ for the Tale of Thopas. Since then, doggerel poetry has been written by both the infamous (see Bonnie Parker, above) and the famous: think Shakespeare, think Ogden Nash, think Doctor Seuss.

One of my favorite examples of doggerel poetry was written by Edward Lear and William Monkhouse. I note it here:

There was a young lady of Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger;
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

—attributed to Edward Lear and William Cosmo Monkhouse


And so you ask, do I have any doggerel poetry that I have written? Let me see…

Here is a short one that I wrote while searching for seashells on a beach near my home only a couple of weeks ago:

TITLE: Gathering Shells and other Events

How many shells wash in from the sea
a million and one? A million and three?
how many grains of sand to fill your pail
how much wind to hoist a sail
how much fire to burn a forest
how much cash to lift the poorest
how much time till it’s all over
how many bees in a field of clover
how many answers fall on deaf ears
how many prayers end in our tears

Thank you for reading.

Hurricane season – 2021

As I write this blog today, storm clouds are gathering over Florida’s Indian River just a hundred yards from my office window. My digital weather station reads a cool 84 degrees with 78 percent humidity. There is thunder in the distance. I glance at my calendar – it’s Thursday, June 3rd.  How the hell did the frigging season sneak up on me, I say to myself. It’s hurricane season and I’d damn near forgotten about it. We are 3 days in now. I haven’t even read a report from the folks out in Colorado predicting how many storms we’ll have this year.


So, I ask Alexa to play “Trying to Reason with Hurricane Season” by Jimmy Buffett just to commemorate the occasion. Halfway through the rendition I realize the absurdity of it. As much of a JB fan that I am, it occurs to me that no one reasons with hurricane season – hurricane season reasons with you. If you live near the coast you know there is no reasoning with a natural phenomenon that can easily expend the energy over ten thousand nuclear bombs in the course of its life span. I’m not reasoning with something like that. I am evacuating.


The central Florida coast where we live has been relatively untouched by hurricanes over the past few decades.

Knock on wood.

Locals like to downplay storms. When my wife and I bought our house here a couple of years ago our realtor assured us that “they usually go the other way”. Neighbors scoffed. “They get them down south” they said. But they assured us we were safe here on the central Florida coast. Being from South Florida, we weren’t so sure. We’d been through many of these storms. We knew how to prepare. We knew when to stay (sometimes) and when to evacuate (sometimes).  We recall the storms of 2005. We recall Katrina (which did touch part of South Florida before devastating the Gulf Coast), Rita, and Wilma. My wife and I  have T-shirts that say we survived Hurricane Irma in 2017 (we evacuated) . We aren’t strangers to these monsters. We’ve dodged them, out run them, and ridden them out.


Hurricane poems.

So, after all this time in the Sunshine State, you’d think I would have written a poem about hurricanes, wouldn’t you? I knew I did, but I had to go digging for it and I finally found it back in my poem archives from 2011. I am not going to rewrite it; I will leave it alone unedited and let the chips fall where they might:

Named storms and hurricanes

I’m on my porch
waiting for the end.
I am drinking a bourbon, because it is made
from corn, from the Midwest where I was born.


where the hurricanes were far away and we
listened to the radio for storm reports of
downed barns and bridges washed out
no hurricanes in North Platte or Scotts Bluff
just empty plains stretching away for
a couple of hundred miles toward Wyoming
and Billings, Montana.

No thought of a
storm with a name – what would you
name it? Cody, or Laramie?

Would you
board up the chicken shed,

Put away the
tools?

So we wait for 45 more storms here
in my home in the tropics.

It is
hot here

there are disturbances off
of Africa – across the Atlantic Ocean.
We can bury the dead where they fall,
we can prepare and fear, we can
wait for September where there is
a lot of lead time. Such a big ocean

Civil unrest in America

Depending upon the time I am allowed,
I will try to work through it,
I will try my best
to uncover the inner workings of
my heart – your heart – I will try
to make the day last a little longer
to live in it – as best I can.
I will savor the daylight
and respect the night.
I will take solace in evening shadows and
morning coffee and afternoon port wine
and conversation about social unrest
and urban decay.
Together we can decry the lost
art of penmanship and civility
on the freeway.
So come sit with me on the porch.
No shoes allowed.
We can leave the dishes in the sink
and the bed unmade.
To hell with the cellular phone…
turn it off and leave it in the oven.

And there’s no need to
do the laundry just because
it’s Tuesday.
We can file for a waiver – this is
after all
America.

Summer/Palm Beach, FL

Summer nights in Palm Beach
you can almost wear
the heat around your neck
on a multi-colored lanyard
smell the night air drifting up from the
Boca ghetto 20 miles to the south
watch the bejeweled sky light up
like the gems in the shops on Worth Avenue
expect everything – you can afford it can’t you?
don’t drink the water
was it worth the hangover?
was it worth the Jacques Selosse?
that you’d ordered – spilled
for that special occasion
Don’t ask the waiter who couldn’t wait
to steal your Lana Marks bag,
don’t count on him,
he’s a traitor who’s fled West.

Keep up appearances
and don’t forget the dogs,
you’ll need them to keep you company
at the Breakers
after the politicians have left the room.

SO
talk the talk and enjoy the ride.

It ends in West Palm at the dog track.
It ends in a seedy poker room
with half a dozen guys smoking cigars
and talking legalized pot.
It ends in a sunset you will never see.

lyrical ghost

The lyrical ghost
is usually 9 miles ahead
of me
he runs on fumes
and caffeine
so I don’t try to catch up
…he’ll run out of gas
the sorry old goat
he lives by his wits
but I don’t
let him
taunt the Old Man…
I give him
a porch to sit on
when he passes thru town
when the moon is new
and he has
that old dog with him
…that 15 year old dog that sits behind the
cane chair…
chewing the cockleburs out of his fur
that old black dog
he’s stiff in the joints
(the black dog)
I make the damned ghost
swear that he will be gone
half an hour before daylight

The lyrical ghost
says there there is no
ride like a 68 Bonneville
no piece of highway like
I-49 South
no mountains like
The Boston Mountains
no land
like east Oklahoma and
the Cookson Hills
and nothing like a big block Pontiac screaming across five states in one night
don’t take the guard rails with you,
compadre
keep it between the ditches
count the lines,
smoke ‘em if you got’ em
give it your best and pray you live until Sunday
no hubcaps needed
no state troopers need apply
he’s a damned outlaw

get up when it’s still dark
check the oil and the brake fluid
kick the tires
call for the black dog
and then just drive away

I hear him rattling around
downstairs
nights when I can’t sleep
and Leah works until
4Am
at the casino
I hear him come in through
the back door
I hear him
throw his keys at the
hook by the basement door, then
he puts
Dave Dudley
on the Philco,
he plays
‘Fireball rolled a 7’
on the record player
after that
all I can do is get up and
write a poem

smoking a cigarette on Exchange Pl., 1993

Often
you remember
last times
more than
you remember first
times

you remember the last
Cigarette that
you smoked…ever
it was 1993
in July…
the day after
the loneliest poet in the world
died,
you read about it in the Post
but you
put it out of your head
for a couple of hours
then
you went outside
on 10:30 break
and you walked down Exchange
and
finally
without any remorse
at all, you walked up to
the first guy you saw
lighting up
and asked him
“hey pal, could you spare a smoke?”

he was a big guy,
he had on a paisley tie
choked up
tight against his neck
hypertension written
in stalactites across
his red cheeks

“what’s it worth to ya”
he says
Bellowing it out like a
gasbag Texas oil guy
in a Vegas whorehouse

he shakes a pack at you

…Chesterfield Kings

…you hesitate…

“Are these cancer sticks
too much for you son?”
he raises an eyebrow
his face
looks a little more red
than before…

and you tell him

“not at all”
and you say that
you are
well acquainted
with the risks
of
smoking

a poet died

last week, an old poet
named Herschel
(aged 79)
died in our town
he was
a man who’d faced
mighty demons
and
3 vindictive lovers
and at least 9
unforgiving employers
and no less than 23
relentless creditors
not to mention
long nights
“alone”
(for nearly 17 years)
at a bar called
the Timberline
surrounded by serious fans
who gathered nightly
to hear him read
his latest
cocktail napkin
concoction
and to applaud
his readings
and to tell him
that his words
had moved them

FAR

more than
Deepak Chopra
or the Dali Lama
…words
that must be surely
bottled and sold
shaken and stirred
and strained gently
over crushed ice
and blended
so very carefully
until their consistency
is consistent
with Kentucky bourbon…

…fine words…
…words that give comfort
to the fucked up needy
when the night
presses in hard
and the corporate benefits
are extinguished
and the wife has vanished
and the old friend
the last one that
you had on earth
is buried
and the dog is lost
and the boat has sunk
and the Visa card has
been cancelled,
the electricity cut off
and the property
condemned…

You think of him then
on a cold night
Herschel…
…damned old poet
you envy him
on his last night on earth
he just waved at the stars
and walked away

thirty eight fifty

One day last month

I put on a clean shirt

shaved and said

that today

I would write:

The Most Profound Poem

ever written:

so

I left 2 dollars on the

nightstand (for the maid)

and walked across A1A

to the Bamboo Bar

and ordered

the vanilla Eclair

from Claire

and I said:

today, great words

will be written about

important causes —

— causes

that must be addressed

and it will ALL start here

on the back of a cocktail napkin

conceived

in a wave of post-blackout

clarity,

such words will

inevitably

be read in Congress

and met with pious nods

and quoted by the President

before being met with

self-righteous indignation

by members of the opposing party

and decried as heresy

by the Vatican

and cause

street signs to be desecrated

in the Third World

and

billboards to be burned

and words of protest

to be painted by rebels

in lime green paint

across a railroad car in Honduras

and to appear

on the rear window of a 1954 Plymouth

on Obidos Street in Havana.

and nailed to the door of a police station

in East Timor

but Claire simply nods

and

sits my coffee before me

on a plain napkin

with a bill for 38.50

from last night.

Honoring World Book and Copyright Day

Don’t you hate it when an important day sneaks up on you? Like those birthdays, anniversaries and holidays that you almost forget about until they are nearly on top of you? Well, today an important date almost streaked right past me. I must say that I would have been quite embarrassed if I’d let today, April 23rd, pass without informing both of my EEOTPB readers that today is, in fact, “World Book and Copyright Day”. Wow, how could I have missed that one on my calendar? Ok, it’s hardly up there with Christmas, Easter, and my wife’s birthday, but it is important nonetheless.

World Book and Copyright Day (how about WBACD from hereon), is now in its fourteenth year and comes to us courtesy of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization). The goal of WBACD is, in the words of UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova:

“Our goal is clear – to encourage authors and artists and to ensure that more women and men benefit from literacy and accessible formats, because books are our most powerful forces of poverty eradication and peace building. ”

Interestingly, the April 23rd date was selected because of the great number of literary icons who were either born on this date, or died on this date. In what can only be described as an astounding coincidence, this date in the year 1616 saw the death of William Shakespeare (April 23rd also being the dayof the great Bard’s birth as well); the great Incan chronicler and writer, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega; and the renowned Spanish author, Miguel de Cervantes (although his date of death is officially listed as being on April 22nd).

In more recent times, April 23rd is the date of either the birth, or of death, of a number of other famous writers, notably French novelist Maurice Druon, who was born on this day in 1918; Icelandic author, and 1955 Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Halldor Laxness, who was born on April 23rd back in 1902. The great Russian novelist Vladmir Nabakov narrowly missed the April 23rd distinction by being born a day earlier on April 22nd, while Spanish journalist and author, Josep Pla died on this date back in 1981.

Each year UNESCO, in conjunction with the International Publishers Association and the International Federation Of Libraries and Institutions, selects a World Book Capital, which for 2014 is the Nigerian delta city, of Port Harcourt, capital of River State, Nigeria.

So there you have it. Head on over to Port Harcourt if you wish, or just crack one open right where you are and drink a toast to “World Book and Copyright Day”.

Now, back to work on the poetry book…