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.

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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…

In which I discuss the demise of books and then shamelessly promote my own

I have written about this in previous posts, but a recent Washington Post blog by Matt McFarland set me off again, so here I go. In a post titled “Books are losing the war for our attention. Here’s how they could fight back”, Mr. McFarland notes that while it is true that we are all reading more and more, we are not reading books, or at least not conventional books, and he includes e-books in this assessment. Interestingly, e-book sales have declined by 3% during the sales period measured between August 2012 and August 2013. McFarland also cites the fact that the number of people who do NOT read books has tripled since 1978. All of which leaves me to wonder, if so few people are reading books, why then are so many people writing them. With upwards of 10,000 e-books hitting the electronic shelves each day…yes, I said each day…one is left to wonder when the number of authors writing books will surpass the number of readers available to read them. Apparently, we are all spending far, far too much time on social media, reading Facebook posts, participating in Linkedin discussion threads, wading through email and monitoring Twitter feeds to crack an e-book, let alone a conventional book with real pages. In the words of, Russ Grandinetti, vice president of Amazon Kindle content, “Most people walk around with some kind of device or have access to some kind of device that allows them to choose how to use their time.” [my emphasis].

So there you have it…we are choosing do other things rather than to read books. So don’t go blaming the death of books on all that social media stuff – we aren’t reading books because we don’t WANT to…so there.

There are numerous solutions to our book reading problem (or lack thereof) being suggested. One suggested answer to the problem is to simply increase the number of words that we can absorb into our overloaded brains per minute. This is done by eliminating traditional left-to-right scanning of a page or display.

New software being developed by a Boston company, Spritz Inc. hopes to reinvent reading by “compact text streaming”. Freed from the burden of having to turn paper pages, or to swipe displays from page to page, we will be able to focus on a stream of information without moving our eyes, thus allowing us to plow through once formidable tomes in record time.

An example cited in Mr. McFarland’s blog post suggests that a properly focused reader using such a device might be able to read “The Catcher in the Rye” in a bit over three hours.

I wish them well with this. I am so behind on my reading.

*

Perhaps those of you who visit here often think it odd that I have nearly let the first third of the month of April go by without mentioning that April is National Poetry Month. Well, the fact is, I have been busy with my own poetry project lately. My collection of poems, “Traveling Light (and taking the back roads out of town)” is well under way and should be available in electronic format, and hopefully print format before the end of the month. Look for it advertised right here on EEOTPB — I mean really, where else. Download it to your Spritz app and you should be able to rip through it in about 48 seconds.

Lisa paints

Lisa paints

like I want to write

passionately

colorfully

in imaginative detail

with soul bearing confidence

with bittersweet honesty

and when she stands

before the canvas

with Haydn playing

in the background

it is then you know

that there’s no turning back

she takes no prisoners

or so I think, as I watch her

on this particular day

when it is raining outside

and we are stuck

in that tiny apartment in Miami

the one we rented out of desperation

after the foreclosure

and she’s wearing the smock

that I bought for her at Target

for Christmas

the powder blue one

with the four big pockets

for her artist stuff

but it is smattered now

with misplaced paint:

Titanium White

Burt Rose

Radiant Violet

Tree Sap Green

Bee sting Yellow

“don’t move” she says coldly

as she adjusts the blinds

I’m drinking bourbon in the nude

tired and tortured in an ugly little room

in a miserable part of town

Prussian Green

Cobalt Tourquoise

Winsor Emerald

Vandyke Brown

she snaps on a light

I soak in its radiance

I’m grateful for the heat

the minutes crawl by

while

Lisa paints.

So you call yourself a writer

“The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing.”

—Pico Iyer

In thumbing through my writer’s notebook, I came across the above quote by the British essayist and novelist of Indian descent, Pico Iyer. The quote has been hanging out in the coffee stained margins of my writer’s notebook for months now. Then as now, I am not sure what to make of it. At first the quote did not resonate with me. Were these words the overindulgent musings of a man who is already a successful writer? Or was it perhaps some form of backhanded condescension to the obscure and struggling writers of the world (of whom I count myself a member).   After all, what would a writer be if not a writer?  Would he or she be a plumber – a dietician – NSA analyst?

“What did you do all day dear?” asks my wife.

“Well sweetheart, I completed the final chapter of that novel I have labored over for the past fourteen months.”

“That’s wonderful,” she says.

“No biggie,” I reply. “That’s what a good electrician does – write novels.”

Of course I am being facetious here, but I have to ask myself if I could work on a piece of fiction, non-fiction, poem, or even a technical document and not think of myself as a writer? In fact such thinking flies in the face of everything that I’ve heard about how we should view ourselves in order to achieve success. Remember the “so you think, so you shall be” philosophy, popularized in self-help books, tapes, DVDs and infomercials? Whatever happened to visualization? We all remember that, right? Close your eyes and imagine yourself wealthy, a non-smoker, twenty pounds slimmer, a confident speaker, the life of the party. Whatever you want to be, just make it happen by believing it so much it happens.

A number of months ago, I attended a lecture by a moderately successful writer, not a writer in Mr. Iyer’s league, but certainly a writer who has achieved a modicum of literary success. This writer suggested that to achieve success we should begin to think of ourselves as ‘writers’. He suggested that writer wannabes have business cards printed, websites published, and at all times think of themselves as ‘writers’ no matter what their profession. He said that writers not writing but are working at non-writing jobs, are simply miscast, and like starving actors waiting tables, they are simply waiting for the world to realize their talent.

And so, Mr. Iyer’s words rang hollow with me and I did push them aside for awhile, until I happened across them again recently. Then it occurred to me that perhaps Iyer is referring to the writer’s ego, and not the actual writing profession. Perhaps by putting aside the ego, a writer can more fully concentrate upon the writing. In any case, that is where I am with this now…if you have any thoughts, please feel free to comment here.