What is the Great American Novel anyway…

Dear Author

It has taken me all month to finish your novel,
the one about two friends who were once close
but for some unexplained reason are no longer,
living lives vaguely dependent on each other
in some mysterious, invisible cosmic fellowship
which you take six hundred pages to explain,
how once they finished the other’s thoughts,
liked the same ordinary, everyday things
which fill lives without reason or purpose
but define idiosyncrasies like dental records,
they both had a bad experience with wisdom teeth,
girlfriends, tomatoes, an inability to finish things
like friendships until they meet again on a train,
airport bound and discover nothing’s changed,
just older and fatter and both flying to Houston
for the same trade show, one selling, one buying,
same hotel, both divorced, kids indifferent
and unimpressed by life, they should grab a bite,
catch-up, where has the time gone, etc.,
but they never see each other it turns out,
and that’s okay – that’s how you end the novel,
and the dust jacket is dotted with quotes
from famous peers, all filled with praise
about how this is the Great American Novel,
because this is America according to everyone.

Keeping a bag packed…

Keep a Bag Packed

Some days it just isn’t worth trying
but I do
because that’s how Dad told me to,
it won’t make sense when you do
he’d say
but trying is its own reward one day,
that, and keep a bag packed always
he did,
but never said he was going away
until it was too late for me to say
not to,
but that’s between me and you.

Words are good enough for me…

words2Words are good enough for me…

Living this way is more than a creed – it’s like air to the lungs… like air to my lungs. But bad words – the bad use of words – seems pure evil to me, and I can’t get beyond it (that’s my burden to live with, or die with).

Words are good enough for me, so I play with them.

Words are good enough for me, so I let them play with me.

Words are good enough for me…

Workman by Day
A nobody to professors, a workman by day
this subtlety ordinary man said we write
(if we do) for others and not ourselves;
a simple diversion for the wordy perversion
making things fit snug like a girdle once did,
hiding things curvy, restraining and deceiving
the favors like adverbs for our great, untidied
neighbors, their reading a passion for our
weakened fashion of night’s haunts which
scare us awake and forced to contemplate
the nightmares of failures and adult scares
which only verse hides what sunlight chides.

Thoughts and Thoughts
A thought that can be thought
without something thoughtful to be done
is no thought at all, but a mere pretender;
thoughts which generate no ideas
and make the weak weep, the simple
comfortable, and the frail cringe at whims
like wishes so all beggars ride. Puzzled and
rancorous ideas are harmless excuses of
unexamined life, a sermon looking for life
in the service of paranoid, naval-gazing
called spirituality, pharmacology without
diagnosis, life without death,
desire without lust, and obedience without
ignorance. Ruined lives litter the path of
thoughts, bitter disciples
are casualties of this pedagogy,
angry tears are learners’ lovers, hemlock
cocktails mixed by the bartender of the many.

And I Quote
What is a quote to be quoted
and to whom does it belong?
those marks somehow borrow
what I wish was my song;
what I want as my own
but someone found before,
almost perfect way of words
I must have, and I adore;
sometimes because of who
but I prefer what is said,
the world is but objects,
not facts’ means instead;
picture what is or is not,
but what is written is read
stop asking what it means
or you’ll always be misled;
while I will quote as I wish
call me a plagiarist as well
all’s words and other words
not things we jsut misspell.

 

What I learned as a teacher…

stonerOnce upon a time I held a romantic dream of fame and fortune in higher education. (Stop laughing….)

This was outlandish for a high school dropout, but I was undeterred by my own story. It was more of a dream for me than all or any of you – as you dutifully marched through grades and degrees while I dallied and dillied in my deficient disorder. And with effort – more than so many alongside – I arrived, burned brightly for a few years, and have dimmed ever since. But that’s my story.

There are few ‘good reads’ about such things, and with good reason. There are only a few of us who dream such foolishness (limited market), and our dream is unbelievable or undesirable (to the market). One exception is an oddly titled narrative from John Willaims – Stoner (http://goo.gl/luA0Wd). Ever heard of it? (Didn’t think so.)

In the meantime, here’s something about what I learned as a teacher…

Great Things
I spent my life doing great things
at least in my own eyes;
better words, deeper thoughts,
longer books; languages, authors
and thinking things people didn’t
think because it hurt to do so, but
I enjoyed the pain and wanted
more, to learn just to learn
and speak and write out of joy,
not compulsion or guilt,
with my delight, sometimes
out of understanding, often
just because I was contagious
in the way I loved finding out
there is so much more to
be found out, so much more;
I spent my life doing great things
and some of them were very good,
even kind because of education’s
gentle touch, so unknown, so
mysterious, when teacher is
learner and students evaluate
with agreeing nods and notes
of I can’t imagine what – what
was said worth writing down
is the mystery because this
won’t be on the test, it will
only be in this classroom,
in this moment important
because I made it seem like
the entire world was waiting
to hear what it depended on;
I spent my life doing great things
and at times I was paid to do
the things I knew were great,
but more often I had to fit them in,
in between the labor and burdens
and ordinariness of women and men
who refused to know what was new
to be known and preferred
to repeat what they’d heard
another pretend lover say
from notes composed over
a score past, including humor
to connect with the dead or
dying and good grades were
in rote memorization of
names, dates and the teacher’s
words that filled in blanks
he created like a crossword
of life and death without
real consequence, only tenure;
I spent my life doing great things
and there are still so many
great things to do but it’s
become too difficult – the fight
for space to breath, and I need
air more than money, and
money more than books now,
and that alone makes me cry;
seeing others do what I love
to do and make a living at it
but eager to retire, to quit and
I’d give anything, anything just
to have the chance, once again,
to live the life of a learner,
indebted to all there is to know.

Going too fast to go faster…

CP9PMK_2332698bHindsight is such a funny word (you can quote me on that).

A Good Fit
In a fit of frenzy
(is there any other kind?)
I gave thanks without pausing
without ceremony, without stopping
to smell roses, coffee or spring’s perfume,
because unlike the behaviorally manipulative
life is my sacrament and no priest slows me down.

Permission or Forgiveness
If only, if, if, “If I knew then
what I know now” I know I’m not
smart (or good) enough to do
anything differently; I know that I
don’t know how to know
differently, I know that even
with 20/20, clear as day,
sharply focused and contrasted
lines diagraming right and wrong,
touch and don’t touch, walk
and don’t walk, buy and sell,
I would still act stupidly
and need forgiveness
instead of permission;
because it’s only later and
not at the time that I know
what I should have known,
and I’m fine with that because
I’m enjoying forgiveness.

 

When an author is not just an author…

author mta_large1Half (and not the good half) of an author’s life is about what it means to be an author, and the other half is about forgetting that first half.

Concern for a Living
I am a struggling author;
poor, undiscovered, hungry,
delusional, fond of intoxication,
paranoid and jealous of others’
prose and publication,
ignorant of my own surroundings
in a proud detachment
I must have learned as necessary
to the self-imposed sadness
to summon my muse,
my war, my tragedy, my novel
which will save me from myself,
propel me reluctantly to fame,
movie and gaming rights
or allow me to write freely
without concern for a living.

Dear Author
It has taken me all month to finish your novel,
the one about two friends who were once close
but for some unexplained reason are no longer,
living lives vaguely dependent on each other
in some mysterious, invisible cosmic fellowship
which you take six hundred pages to explain,
how once they finished the other’s thoughts,
liked the same ordinary, everyday things
which fill lives without reason or purpose
but define idiosyncrasies like dental records,
they both had a bad experience wisdom teeth,
girlfriends, tomatoes, an inability to finish things
like friendships until they meet again on a train,
airport bound and discover nothing’s changed,
just older and fatter and both flying to Houston
for the same trade show, one selling, one buying,
same hotel, both divorced, kids indifferent
and unimpressed by life, they should grab a bite,
catch-up, where has the time gone, etc.,
but they never see each other it turns out,
and that’s okay – that’s how you end the novel,
and the dust jacket is dotted with quotes
from famous authors, all filled with praise
about how this is the Great American Novel,
because this is America according to everyone.

Muncie
If I were born in Iowa I should have
become an author,
which is very different from a writer
or even a poet;
for the long winters would force
dark, ever-more
complicated plots descending
down snow banked, gloomy ways
with just flashes of light
passing so quickly they first blind,
then force you to wonder if they
were real at all;
Iowa doesn’t beget writers, for their
ways are hurried,
whiplashed barrages of shallow
persons with ironic twists
turning into ever more ironic
turns in the helter-skelter ways of
cities like Chicago which has more than
its share of such people – writers as well
as such persons too busy
complaining about what is
considered normal in Iowa that
it is become their sport;
now a Minnesota birth would surely
encourage poetry, but usually
the kind that rhymes with
everyday life,
because, let’s face it,
in the confines of cabin those
tight circles of rhymes
come easily as a neighbor
with a hot dish
ringing the door chime, or,
maybe, it would be
birds on fences, cows a-lowing
in a nativity
outside the Twin Cities,
the wisdom of matches
cobbled from life’s woods near
Emo, or how quiet
farmers are the salt of
the earth, no doubt in part due
to the pickled herring;
yes, it’s easy to see what I
would be if born in Iowa, so it’s
too bad I’m from Muncie, Indiana.

Critical
Aroused at meridian to a brilliant dismay,
mentation unfettered from eremitic seclusion,
banishing juvenile primum non nocere,
no longer pursuing the illusory conclusion.

Analogies abound in the world of intention,
reference revered in the present symbolic,
authors contest with readers’ intervention,
creating the occasion of receptive frolic.

Burrow wide and well in channel virginal,
render again and anew the company kept,
embrace untried manners regarded novel,
sequestering fantasy and religion except.

Construed for current contentment,
the extant subscriber seeks to narrate
hermetic theft  of meaning’s attendant
tomorrow’s uncertainty day gestate.

Dead authors everywhere (thank God)…

death-of-the-authorAuthors are meant to be dead. Not just ‘die’ as if they every controlled their work product with intentions, authority, biography, and situation in life (go ahead, impress me with the German phrase, I dare you). Authors are meant to be dead – gone, unable to control, opine, correct, approve, and/or denounce the silliness of readers.

Roland Barthes didn’t kill authors, just the abstract category of ‘the author’ (and Barthes has both died and is dead – that’s according to Roland Barthes, I guess – Oh, the twisted irony of it all).

Dear Author
It has taken me all month to finish your novel,
the one about two friends who were once close
but for some unexplained reason are no longer,
living lives vaguely dependent on each other
in some mysterious, invisible cosmic fellowship
which you take six hundred pages to explain,
how once they finished the other’s thoughts,
liked the same ordinary, everyday things
which fill lives without reason or purpose
but define idiosyncrasies like dental records,
they both had a bad experience wisdom teeth,
girlfriends, tomatoes, an inability to finish things
like friendships until they meet again on a train,
airport bound and discover nothing’s changed,
just older and fatter and both flying to Houston
for the same trade show, one selling, one buying,
same hotel, both divorced, kids indifferent
and unimpressed by life, they should grab a bite,
catch-up, where has the time gone, etc.,
but they never see each other it turns out,
and that’s okay – that’s how you end the novel,
and the dust jacket is dotted with quotes
from famous authors, all filled with praise
about how this is the Great American Novel,
because this is America according to everyone.

X
I can say X is red
or X instead;
because what’s real
is what we steal
from authors dead
but well said,
both/and and lost
found with a cost
that I will pay
every single day
until words mean
not what they seem
to Dumpty’s many
egg’s a plenty
toppled from walls
ruining school halls
angering teachers
pleasing preachers
who always search
for sin’s church
of truth’s facts
but object acts
baffling thoughtless
fearful, cautious
realists all
of Adam’s fall
who hear a word
and jump stirred
by a fear of living
and God unforgiving.