Thursday, December 28, 2006

The New Year Approaches...

...but with great gilded coaches, or battalions of roaches?

At this stage--on December 28th--it is pretty hard to tell. The rumbling of the future always sounds the same to me, no matter what is coming--blood, thunder, or just the usual cast of idiots, committing the usual blunders.

All I will say is that things seem satisfactory today. My cholesterol is low. I have been averaging about 1000 calories worth of cardio work at the YMCA, 3x per week.
I have not been bombed today. I could be a bit taller, perhaps, and thinner. But then, who couldn't be?

Generally speaking, plans are proceeding according to plan--which is a nice thing for plans to do. I have scheduled a move to Japan for 2007. Probably to teach English, also to learn Japanese, but more than anything to secretly settle down with my friend Takaaki--to see if we can establish some kind of existence for ourselves.

In September, I donated most of my life to charity, reducing the volume of my possessions to two cartons of letters, a few photographs, a cedar box marked with the legend ‘Dad’ (it used to belong to my grandfather), a red calf-skin bound Bible from the Lighthouse Baptist Church, North Tonawanda, NY, and a kidney-shaped, evergreen ashtray I put together in 7th grade ceramics class. And my white Apple laptop. And the first 60 episodes of Bleach.

“Simplify, simplify,” was Thoreau's most transcendental advice. And I think I have tried to follow it to the best of my abilities. Simplification is not for everyone, but it does seem to agree with me. Perhaps being a simpleton helps. It certainly doesn't hurt. That is, unless you have 2,000 kanji to learn...

We’ll see how things go in Japan. All I am certain about today is that a bachelor’s cabin on a lake in Massachusetts is not for me. Nor is the Lake Shore Limited--not anymore, anyway.

Not after being seduced by the Shinkansen, anyway.

I think I am totally in love.

The Heron and the Crab

Are you enjoying Minneapolis?
I sit here typing on a purple train
Which has stalled outside of Beverly,
Massachusetts. And it looks like rain.

The ghostly fingers of a hurricane
Are creeping up this section of the coast.
If we were home—back in Manhattan—we
Might see lightning buttering our toast.

This morning, for my breakfast, all I had
Was twenty Tylenol. How do I feel
About you moving back to Tokyo?
The damage it will do will be unreal.

I rest my temple on the window pane.
A heron daintily devours a crab
Abandoned by the surf in that salt-marsh
Out there. I love that bird. I am so glad

I noticed him. You know, if you were here
I’d say, “I bet that bird is Japanese—
He’s having one of your weird breakfasts.” He
Tears that crabby heart apart with ease.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

And another thing...

Well, after a whiff of mortality, some smelling salts, and the flutter of a sympathetic fan, I think I have started to recover from the universal excitement generated by my first posting. I hope that you have, too. My friend Bill had some very nice things to say about the magenta and rose color scheme I have employed here.

If I seem a little wistful this afternoon, I hope you will forgive me. I am trying to make up for lost time. You see, I have been trying to publish some of this stuff for years. And to suddenly realize what most people realized ten years ago—that you have the freedom to embarrass yourself in public without any help from others—is totally disorienting.

There is nothing so shattering to a person's personality—his sense of self— than a belated Epiphany. Everyone thinks himself a genius in his own little corner of the cosmos, and to discover otherwise is somewhat—er—unsettling. It is worse than showing up late for a party. It is more like showing up late to an orgy—when the beer is warm, the women are cold, and the only thing left to eat are

Which reminds me: I need to get some lunch...

While I am off eating, here is a poem involving the ghost of Harry
Houdini—one of my childhood heroes. Harry, of course, did not believe in ghosts any more than you or I do, and he spent much of his later career debunking spiritualists, mentalists, and other frauds.

Therefore, I think the reader may take this item as a complete flight of fancy: the transcript of a conversation I once had with my soul through a
Parker Brothers Planchette, or Ouija Board, when I couldn't find anyone willing to play Monopoly with me.

How strange the voices that we hear when we are alone!

The Escape Artist

Why don’t we take a tour of your ribcage?
Feel free to smoke. No spitting, though. It’s rude.
Now pick a person from the rack—an image
To titillate the senses. Something nude.

That’s your companion for Eternity.
A soul-mate, if you like. He never rots.
You’ve picked a postcard—excellent. Let’s see.
He looks like that Houdini—clad in locks

From head to toe. Will he escape in Time?
Reserve your seat for Harry’s greatest feat!
While we are waiting though, we ought to dine.
There must be something in the Snack Bar. Sweet:

I thought we had a box of Raisin Bran…
You do like Raisin Bran? You look distressed.
No, the box contains no Raisin Bran,
But please inhale whatever’s there with zest.

ll find it’s very hard to criticize
The brute who brings the breakfast—and his rose.
Tears have a tendency to fill his eyes
When you attack him. And he breaks your nose.

Which brings us back around to the front door:
They recently installed new mirrors—steel.
We had an “incident” on the top floor
When loneliness lost all its sex-appeal.

m not that nuts, I guess. I’m kind of glad
They took my glasses and bricked up the sky
Before these suicides became a fad.
I think it should be difficult to die.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

A Disclaimer

The man to my left is Housman. And today is a Tuesday.

And since you have probably stumbled across this site, like me, while looking for something else, let me welcome you.

This certainly isn't paradise, but I do hope that my world isn't all that different from the planet you inhabit, except perhaps that things rhyme more here, and certain stale, artistic odors have been eliminated—thanks to the modern magic of musical ventilation!

The title of my blog, When I was One and Twenty, is taken from a poem by A.E. Housman:

When I was one-and-twenty
I heard a wise man say,
'Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away...

While this is not my professional opinion as a poet, you must admit that these four lines have a certain simplicity and charm that makes them easier recall than your last, and most disastrous love-affair. And isn't that the nice thing about Art: it is so much less painful to contemplate than...

Anyway, before I lapse into anything so ludicrous as aesthetics, or philosophy, here's something I hope you can have some fun with for a few minutes. Which is not so bad an accomplishment for a poem, I think.

Or a life...

Preface to A Life
For M.A.

Fair seed time had my soul, and I grew up…
-William Wordsworth, The Prelude.

I have a dirty secret to disclose
Before we start here. Can I be candid?
This isn’t the profession which I chose.
I’m no poet. I don’t understand it.
As a child, I dreamed of writing prose:
My box of cereal, The Daily Planet,
Proust—they spoke to me. And poetry—
It seems an awful way to treat a tree.

Poets only have three subjects: love,
Despair, and death. And maybe the odd flower.
My numbers here are estimates, and rough:
I have just drawn zero for an hour
Which seemed like an Eternity—enough
Time to admit the limits of my power:
The Muses call me, but I cannot sing.
Sure, I can give you Shakespeare, gargling,

That’s simple: he is in this huge bathroom,
A Dixie cup in hand, an inch of Scope
Bubbling in his throat. Scope, I presume,
Not Listerine, which kills bacteria, Hope,
You, and me, and everything—ka-boom!
He was hygienic, William, not a dope.
I once was his—you should call me his guest—
Since I was underage, and such a pest.

My own facilities are less extensive:
I’ve got the standard toilet, white, a small
Bathtub, a sink. The scent of talcum gives
The place a pale, late Roman air. Each fall
That fragile autumn light, for which I live,
Will form a golden window on the wall
Right above the faucets—there. I’m sorry
Faucets don’t figure larger in my story,

But try to let your mind fill in these gaps.
Use whatever odds and ends you wish:
Your own experiences, marbles, maps,
A plum stone glistening in a glass dish,
Your favorite pair of underwear—those chaps
Left over from your rodeo in Bliss;
A big Bermuda onion—I don’t know.
Something should suggest itself. Let go.

Doodling is what I often seem to do
When I have these imaginary needs.
Most authors have a strategy or two.
John Milton summoned scrolls, papyrus reeds,
Imported at great expense from the past. It’s true,
Lord Byron also dabbled in some deeds
Of great antiquity—at least on paper—
But I deny involvement in that caper.

Don Juan, I’m not. I wasn’t meant to be
So pretty. I was born in Buffalo,
A rusty suburb of Reality,
A town called Tonawanda. Yes, I know,
The place did not exist till you met me.
We processed lots of lumber, long ago.
Nothing much goes on here anymore.
Luckily, our taverns close at four.

Here, Mendelssohn wed Edwin to Kathleen
Around the time of my conception in
A battered Skylark. Pop was a Marine,
Lance Corporal. Loyal, like most Marlboro Men,
I hear he shot a cigarette machine
On Okinawa, from frustration, when
A pack of twenty Camels tumbled out.
Yet, I never saw him smoke, or shout.

My mom insisted that he switch to snuff
When I was born. They slowly separated, and
I only knew my father long enough
To miss him really—hold his massive hand.
The mess he left made life extremely tough.
Some kids need discipline, you understand.
Mom did her best. She did not spare the rod—
Her special spatula—the Wrath of God.

That spatula and I, we still survive.
We pass strange things along in my family.
Ghost stories, mostly. Like who dropped the knife
(This bayonet—my father’s legacy)
Down the laundry chute. It’s my belief—
And here my mother and I disagree—
The thing was cruddy. And so down it slid.
It needed washing. That’s what mothers did.

It nearly killed her. I was sent to bed
One hour early. That rather shocked me, too.
I’m sure that in my future you saw red—
A bloody end, involving scarlet dew-
Drops, total melodrama. No. She said,
“Do you know how I got this big boo-boo?”
I nodded very meekly—in this style
And pointed sadly at my brother, Kyle.

Man hands on misery to man,” of course,
Nothing could be easier than THAT.
Happiness is harder, and a source
Of great perplexity to poets—at
Least those creeps who scatter metaphors,
Like tears, across each page, without éclat,
Éclairs, or anything more pleasant. I
Sincerely hope I am not such a guy.

My mother heaved the huge, eye-rolling sigh
She usually reserved for The Three Stooges.
Despite my innocence, and cuteness, I
Was tucked in tightly. Kyle burped brown juices
On his bib, not quite comprehending why.
You know, that wicked child still refuses
To admit his guilt—now that he can talk.
And walk. He’s even lost his taste for chalk.

Well, before we fix him, it is clear
I need to straighten out this dialogue.
Now what were we discussing? Proust? Shakespeare
He once permitted me to walk his dog
When I came over. It was pretty weird:
My mind filled up with music, then a fog,
This mist precipitated in my eyes—
I thought it was just raining. Big surprise:

I was back in my old neighborhood,
And Heaven only knows how I got there.
We moved a lot. But I was pretty good
At climbing out of trouble. My highchair
Proved to be a problem though. I could
Not master gravity. Perhaps the air
Malfunctioned. Or my wings. At least I tried.
I cracked my cranium, and cried, and cried.

God, curiosity must be the bane
Of man's existence. Take this incident:
A bawling baby with a bit of brain
Exposed. Was this a portent, or the dent
Death left inside my consciousness? For pain
I received kisses, not the monument
I wanted, carved in marble, “Tragedy.”
I’m glad nobody took me seriously.