Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #139: A Winter's Tale

An excerpt from my novel Galilee, with Emma the narrator, Alejandro, and Jackie the dog:

We reached Española in the early afternoon, after a big swoop past Santa Fe. Since I was sure we’d loop back to Española, I didn’t linger there. We took the highway east into a mountain valley towards Chimayó. The sky was turquoise blue against yellow mountains. It was a lazy drive in the afternoon sun—little traffic and a winding road. Jackie took a snooze in the back seat for both of us.

Chimayó was little more than a village scattered along the mountain highway. I was hungry again, so I stopped off at a big hacienda restaurant under a grove of trees. Ever the telepath, Jackie stayed sprawled out on my sleeping bag as I got out of the car. There was still a bite in the air, but sun and sky conspired to create an illusion of warmth. The lunch crowd was winding down in the restaurant; the woman who greeted me took me to the lounge, and seated me next to a wonderful piñon fire. I was the only diner in the room; the bartender was the only other human. Over against a pair of French doors lounged a gargantuan white dog—a Great Pyrenees, the bartender told me. He took my order and smiled as I declined his suggestion of a Chimayó cocktail. “As you wish,” he said. A few minutes later, he set one down in front of me, smiling as if he had set a precious jewel in its place.

“My compliments,” he said.

“I’m the designated driver,” I said.

“I went light on the tequila,” he replied.

“There is no such thing as light on tequila,” I said, but took the lovely cocktail glass in hand. “I smell apples.”

“Apple cider, lemon juice, crème de cassis, and Herradura.”


“Shall we say the—culprit?” He bowed ever so slightly.

Culprit was right. It was nowhere to be found in my first sip of the drink, which quickly led to second and third—and larger—sips. Halfway through the drink I felt like my body had turned into a river: I could hear myself rushing over stones.

Someone took possession of my mouth and said, “Alejandro,” for so the bartender had introduced himself.

“Indeed,” he said, from behind his beautifully carved wooden bar.

“Do you hear the river?”

“The river?”

I felt myself rushing over the brilliant limestone of the greenbelt back in Austin.

“I am a river. You should see me.”

“Ah, yes. The river.” He chuckled.

I could not turn to him in his mirth. The sun of the fire felt as if it were nestled upon my left cheek. To turn would be to lose the sun.

“Why are you giggling, Alejandro?” I said.

“For most it is something like Niagara Falls. You are the first river.”

“You are a very bad man, Alejandro.”

Muy mal,” he replied.

He was, in fact, a bit of a shaman. I spent the next three hours in his empty lounge, as he went about his afternoon chores. He gave me just the one cocktail, but fed me an abundant feast of his own choosing, items mostly not on the menu. When he moved to an outdoor bar for further errands, he took me with him and set me down at a table on the lovely hillside terrace behind the hacienda. At one point I mentioned Jackie, and he left to rescue her from the wagon. She lay on the warm flagstone of the terrace, while I drank very strong coffee.

My head was coming back around. Alejandro was hand-squeezing limes.

“Shouldn’t I be cold out here?” I said.

“Chimayans are never cold,” he replied.

“That’s the Herradura talking.”

He smiled and nodded. “Precisely.”

Alejandro lit a fire in the kiva fireplace beside the table. The sun had gone behind the mountains and the valley light was dimming. Evening diners were beginning to take tables inside the restaurant and on the terrace beside other kivas. Waiters were lighting votives on all the tables. I was no longer drunk, but I still did not want to move. I had not felt such peace in a very long time.

"o n'other than Ann Richards, theWith a feeling of heartache, I said, “Alejandro, I must go.”

“What is this must?” he said. “There is no must. You have just arrived in Chimayó. Have you been to the weavers? No. To the Santuario? Of course not. You have not yet fulfilled your obligation to Chimayó. Of course you cannot leave.”

“You are taking me prisoner?”

“On the contrary. I am setting you free.”

He sat down beside me, and folded his hands upon the table. I liked his face very much. His hair was very dark. There was a hint of Emiliano Zapata in his look, with his dashing moustache, but there was also an extraordinary gentleness in his manner. I could not tell his age—he could have been forty, could have been sixty.

“Listen to me,” he said. “I do not make it a habit of handing out free drinks to every person who walks into my lounge. Ask my friends. Much to their chagrin, I make them all pay me up front. But, this afternoon I see a young woman walk into my room, and the first thing I feel is my heart is breaking. The feeling does not stay with me long, but for the few moments before it passed, I was filled with an overwhelming desire to weep. Alejandro Montoya is not given to tears, believe me. After that feeling passes, I feel a clenching like chains around my heart. These are not the feelings of Alejandro who lives in this quiet valley. These are feelings, I realize quickly, that this young woman has brought with her into my tidy little workroom. What can I offer this woman, I wonder? I have nothing to offer her. I am a man who plies liquor into his customers, listens to their stories, wakes them with coffee when it’s time to go home. I do not know how to cure such pain as you carry in this afternoon. I am at a complete loss, and then Christ whispers to me, ‘One Chimayó cocktail will not hurt her.’ I tell him, ‘She has already refused.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ he says. ‘But this one is on me.’ So, I give you his cocktail and I feed you and let you sit with me while I putter around, and I can see and feel in my own chest that your heart is lighter. The chains are looser. Yes, I know, your pain is not gone, but you have felt some of the peace that so many others feel who stumble into our little valley. People who come to Chimayó and drink the drinks I set before them, eat the food we cook for them, who then buy their blankets and wool jackets from the weavers, and then go and get soppy-eyed over at the Santuario as they experience maybe five minutes of a little mystery in their lives before heading out for their next shopping spree. Not once do they think of giving anything back besides the money they charge to their silver and gold and blue and titanium credit cards. But, I look at you and I say to myself, you are not one of those people. You come with your broken heart and your little dog and your strange car with the sleeping bag in the back seat, and before I know it you are a river running across river stones, and out of nowhere the thought comes to me, ‘She must give back.’ I am puzzled, I do not know what this means, I think maybe this is Christ speaking again to me, but he says, ‘No, Alejandro, this is all yours, mijo.’ So, forgive me, mija, but I cannot shake the idea that you have an obligation and you have not met it.”

It was a lot of words to take in on strong black coffee, but one thing was clear to me—I felt no need, and no desire, to argue. I hadn’t a clue what this all meant, but my body just seemed to be saying, “the man is right. You’re not going anywhere.’

Still, I put up the token fight.

I said, “I don’t have a titanium card, Alejandro, but would cash do?”

He smiled, relieved, I think, to be shorn of the intensity of his big speech.

He said, “Emma Sullivan, you are a very bad woman. Very bad.”


Thursday, November 27, 2008


I wrote these years ago, much more goofy poetry than astrological insight. Forgive me, Devil Mood.

ARIES (March 21 – April 19)

R eckless

A bandon

M isses your essence.

TAURUS (April 20 – May 20)

B last through walls, perhaps, but

U nder your bluff is a

L over. Ask she who

L urks deep within your meadow.

GEMINI (May 21 – June 21)

T erribly lost in

W himsy. Yesterday was when

I ntellect ran out.

N ow is the time to hearten, to

S ift through the grounds at your feet.

CANCER (June 22 – July 22)

C arry the

R est of your

A nswers to someone else’s

B osom.

LEO (July 23 – August 22)

L ust is only an

I mplication. You

O wn the realm of

N ight.

VIRGO (August 23 – September 22)

V erdant, your hills are

I cequick to

R ue all sentiment.

G o to the

I sland of a black mare.

N ow is your time.

LIBRA (September 23 – October 23)

S ober you are not.

C lowns are
A ncient in your
L ineage. She who
E ases pain
S teps on water.

SCORPIO (October 24 – November 21)

S nakes fare better when
C oiled at midnight.
Or: you may inherit a
R est home. Whatever, your
P lea is heard: at least lower
I nterest rates.

O therwise,

N ix the Honda.

SAGITTARIUS (November 22 – December 21)

A nyone can

R ip apart the logic of a

C hild. Your misfortune is to

H ave the desire to.

E ven the Almighty must

R est, you know.

CAPRICORN (December 22 – January 19)

G o gently

O ver the mountain that

A waits your

T rust.

AQUARIUS (January 20 – February 18)

W hy, in the final

A nalysis, is it upon you

T o ask into our dark night?

E vening has a lighter

R eturn: she knows how the way

B ends. Are we not all

E qual to the task? Do not

A nswer, not just yet.

R est with the river,

E mpty your outer bowls,

R un with glee to the ocean.

PISCES (February 19 – March 20)

F inally,

I f you must

S ave

H umanity, do it tomorrow.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The High Line

Given time, beauty will out. In the blogroll, you'll now find a link to the Friends of the High Line, an organization founded to save and transform an elevated freight rail in lower Manhattan. One of the two founders is Robert Hammond, son of two San Antonio visionaries, Pat and Hall Hammond. The High Line's history and its transformation are two amazing stories. Visit the site: great history, images, and video.

(Image: Joel Sternfeld)

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All Manner of Vermin

(Ah. Thanksgiving Monday...)

Mr. Calvin gave it to us first, in Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat.


01. DRiED-ouT CaTsuP oN tHE BottLE RiM.
02. Toast CRuMBs iN tHE ButtER.
03. MusHY BaNaNas.
04. WoRMs oN tHE siDEWaLK.
05. sKiN oN PuDDiNG.
06. MaKiNG a HaND GestuRE foR QuotatioN MaRKs.
07. RaisiNs.

And Hobbes offers: "How about 'excessively negative people?'"
Calvin: "Yeah, that's a good one." Then, after a few beats: "HEY!"

Mr. Baby, lover of all things CaLViN and HobbEs, must get in on the action with his:

14 Things that bug me:

01. Cold hommos (hummus, to you non-Armenians) with no paprika.
02. Jelly touching my eggs.
03. The smell of dog barf. (I told him it was going on the blog. "So?")
04. When I smell a bad fart under the covers.
05. TV reruns.
06. Homework.
07. Fast weekends.
08. Gnats.
09. Toast crumbs in the butter.
10. Soggy cookies.
11. Loopy girly letters.
12. The Jonas Brothers.
13. High School Musical (1, 2, 3, 65).
14. 21st century Musicals.

No surprise, ever-prowling for materia bloggia, I offer AN IRKSOME TEN:

01. Unjustified margins.
02. Short stories with "Story" as the title.
03. Comic Sans used by anyone over the age of two. (Yes, even then it bugs me.)
04. Lately, Blogger's ghosts in the machine.
05. Root beer floats (black cows) with "scoops" of ice cream. That glass should be packed with ice cream.
06. Radio stations that lop off the awesome guitar solo at the end of "Black Magic Woman."
07. Posed pictures.
08. That, if alone in the car, I will actually sing along with the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar."
09. u for you; OMG for Oh My Grapefruit.
10. The absence of Mary in the Episcopal Church.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

"This is for all the People..."

Nuff said:

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Found while out foraging this morning. How this tag works:

(a) Fiction book
(b) Autobiography
(c) Non-fiction book
(d) A fourth book of your choice, from any genre

Explain why the books are essential reads, in 30 words or less. (For maximum fun, try for 30 words exactly).

Against the Day (Thomas Pynchon): Pynchon's belated daddiness seeps deep into this long ride, lamentations and genres abounding, comic seriousness and heartbreaking comedy, wild west and Venice and all else in between, whatcha waitin' for?

The Edge of Taos Desert (Mabel Dodge Luhan): Imperial Mabel in her aesthetic fiefdom, her hollyhock empire, summoning Lorenzo and Georgia as if it were all her due, but the poet still shines through her escape to reality.

Rimbaud in Abyssinia (Alain Borer; translated by Rosemary Waldrip): Early star-shot Arthur, writing into and out of the silences and desolations of Harar, bloodthirsty hyenas in the dark nights, AB/RW in meditative pursuit. Genius lurking in these quiet exiles.

American Noise (Campbell McGrath): Poems of the first rank, whether chasing Kerouac in a blue dead Lowell night, sugar skulls in Oaxaca, or love and wild horses in the placemats of the woolly west.

Tag, y'all are all IT.

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Friday, November 21, 2008

Sunday Scribbling #138: Grapefruit

[Forbidden in Barbados]

Forbidden in Barbados, lush green
Fruitful pomelos,
Captain Shaddock’s baby boy,
These evergreen, four-petaled, acidic
Cultivars—Ruby red—
Oblate,what has travel
To do with any of this?—
Reverend Griffith Hughes,
Count Odette Phillipe,
Sulfur-containing terpenes all:
naringin, bergamottin & dihydroxybergamottin,
the Winken, Blinken, and Nods
of hortiferous horticulture,
ancient dulce de leches-laden
toronjas rellenas,
meaty analogues all
spiffy in their
Jordache jeans,
What’s not to be grapefruitful?


Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Worthless Slave, Part II

I’ve been stuck this past week on the “worthless slave” of the parable of the talents; the last character that grabbed my attention as much was two years ago, with the mysterious young man in Mark 14, who follows Jesus out of Gethsemane, after the arrest. The man is clothed in linen, but flees naked from the scene, after an altercation. For me, the man was mirrored by the young man in white at the tomb in Mark 16, who tells the women that Jesus is no longer there, that they should all head for Galilee. So much mystery, so much of the deep ecology far beneath the canonical narratives seemed embedded in the simplicity of the mention, the lack of details and the lack of commentary—the silence around that white-clad figure. My initial goal was to uncover and identify the young man, but eventually, I saw him as a figure to meditate upon and within, as if he were one of many ciphers that were portals of access beneath the rubble of our standard interpretations and commentary. A place to go wordlessly into our pre- and post-verbal encounters with all these spiritual fictions.

My anarchic philosophical tendencies made it a sure bet for me to fall for the worthless slave, but what throws the balance of this story off is not so much his thumbing his nose at the master, as it is the master’s brutal response: for me, that brutality constitutes the “tell” that suggests that something is awry with standard interpretations of the third slave as irresponsible, lazy, what have you. The human writer is weighing in heavily with his own axe to grind, siding hard with the “responsible investors,” but the beauty of this parable is that its own subversive intent undermines all attempts to make the theme be so docile. If the ending of the story is a brutal banishment, then the parable itself, whether Matthew is aware of it or not, seems to be saying all bets are off: do not seek the kingdom of heaven in the investment portfolio scenarios or perhaps even the more humanistic “do not hide your own God-given talents” sermonettes—seek the clue in the end, in the banishment.

The epiphany hit me in the shower this morning, and it followed our assistant rector Matt’s axiom that if you get the parable right away, if the meaning seems obvious, then we are most likely off base. “Investing wisely to the master’s delight” or “not hiding, but growing our talents” seem interpretations too easily gained. What hit me in the shower was a return to Jesus’ subversiveness, his laying out the fate of those who will not “take” from their masters (the talent was “planted”), but will instead return that which was given and call out the injustice of the system in which investment for the master is the expected norm—that they will be thrown into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…

In this, I see Jesus issuing the pabulum of wise investing to those who would hear it that way, while at the same time giving acknowledgement and solace to those whose paths were/are not that of the righteous denari. And, following Harold Bloom’s frisson of textual misreading as a creative necessity in the development of textual revelation, what dropped into my mental lap earlier this week was the notion that the “worthless” slave was a woman—who better, all possible sexual renderings intended, to have perhaps an entirely different (perhaps even a truer) understanding of the master. No friend to what he considers the aesthetic weakness of the “New” Testament, friend Harold has little affection for anything but the Markan Jesus: the others he finds too bereft of irony to resemble anything close to the Lear-like complexities of Yahweh. I’d like to offer the notion that Matthew’s talents-fabulist tells a tale with the quicksilver ability to resist its own chronicler, that there is irony aplenty in this little tale, for those who need its sobering, and subversive, comfort.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Waning Days and Waning Nights

Researc_ Topics for t_e 168:

Digital fonts
Skinless _ot dogs
Meat analogue
Skinless skin
Skinless teet_
Missing _ Keys
LavaMan Foundations
Yuletide misspellings of t_e word “manager”
Only SUV-camping Italians
Walrus tents
_illary for Secretary of State
Rocky VI
Skinless Jell-O
_he University of Colorado at Boulder
American University, t_e MIT of Public Communications
_he University of Texas at Austin, _he MIT of Gelatin
Tim O’Brien s_ort stories
Orange evacuation plans
Typical leder_osen
Surrealistic pillows
Jordac_e jeans
Caramelized Cisneros
Calvin Klein woodsmit_s
LoserP_ace at t_e War_ol
T_e Bartlett Gallery
C_arm Sc_ools
Trojan domination of t_e Spartan desks
Privileged Yout_
Rodent Be_avioral Patterns
Do C_ickens Really Run Around With _heir Heads Cut Off?
_ow to Get Out of a Locked Suburban
The Potential Energy and t_e Kinetic Energy of a Roller Coaster
Boxers or Legos?
Does Celine Dion Really Look Like _itler Wit_out (or Wit_) a Moustac_e?
C_ocolate Tastes Like Veggies
I Broke t_e Legs of It
Do Computers Wear Tennis S_oes?
God Knows
Is Burt Bac_arac_ really 5’4”?
_ow do You Make Pickles in t_e Factory?
Pickles in Kool-Aid?
My Leg
Sasqautc_ Overdrive
Tamale Avenue
Camilla t_e Love C_icken


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Well done, good and trustworthy slave...

(Image: "Jewish Ghetto" by Carrie Mae Weems)

“As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth…” (From Matthew 25: this morning’s Gospel reading)

My Worth: From the Outer Dark

Where the weeping, where the gnashing?

Cast into the outer dark,

silence greets me, a silken silence

without the grip and grasp

and drumbeaten brow, silence

slipsliding down

a sleek hole,

unforetold dimensions

of silence, pussyfooting

gods and masters long

past, immunity

from all past crimes.

My one talent?

I planted it to grow,

to breathe in earth:


seeded flower, yes,

I can stand the voice &

breath of god,

but I can’t stand

the weariness of

capital gain &

crumbling property.

I am a simple

man: call me worthless

if you must,

if it makes you feel better,

if it stacks the deck

in favor of

the master’s vanity,

his wealth,

& the groveling servants.
Then you ought to have

invested my money with

the bankers, he sez:

that’s an outer dark I’d

rather not.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Thinking Hearts

I am long overdue in publicly acknowledging Ms Rebecca's "I Love This Blog" bestowal within the past few weeks. As with similar bestowals, this one comes with the invitation to pay it forward, which I shall do, but in a slightly abbreviated fashion.

It should go without saying that, if ye are on the old pbooker Blink list, you are loved - well, all but Flick Filosopher (here, I just upped her hits again by a point or two, darn!): narcissist that I am, I am still smarting from her boorish and ill-informed response to one of my long-ago comments. I leave her on the roll as a drive-through to the IMDB...

Down, Scrooge: this is about celebrations.

Anyway, as I was saying, love is as love does: on the Blink list, you are loved and cherished and visited often, whether you have the software to verify that or not (I do not). On past occasions, I have raved about the many blinkers, but there are three about whom I have not.

Rebecca at Just A Thought herself, for one. In addition to conferring her recent blessing upon me, she has blessed me with many appreciative comments and readings. In some ways, we are at opposite ends of the blogosphere, I with my surreal mania and she with her always thoughtful, penetrating writing. A passionately sane writer, full of an enormously compassionate heart, but capable, when need be, of taking up the sword of Archangel Michael when she has had enough of ignorance, cruelty, and brutality. Many's the time she's pointed me back to the heart of things I might rather not witness, but always with a love of her readers. St. Therese, Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Yemaya all rolled into one, but soil your knickers with reckless abandon on her watch, and you'll find Jonathan Swift's well-placed boot up your ass.

Ms Tammie Lee's gallery at Spirithelpers is a marvelous world of wonders. The crystalline brilliance of her photographic images seem like an enormous archive of lost treasures, as she lovingly documents her life as a traveling deva in Whitefish, Montana, easily one of my picks for heaven on earth, which I suppose makes Tammie the Angel at the Gates. I have this image of Tammie as an ethereal, elfin (Lord of the Rings elfin) woman, but her images bespeak a powerful, concentrated, passionate eye. If the gods did not create the world she captures, then I'm convinced that she did.

Anno at Anno's Place is the most recent addition to the roll, and there is never a finer day to introduce yourself to her writing than with today's poem: it is a long-legged stately beauty, but her long-running blog is filled with such gems. I'd tripped over her name several times in my Miss Alister visits, started paying quiet visits to her place, and then decided to let my loud self into the mix. We are co-travelers in the world of middle school education, which as we both know is anything but middling, we are both Scorpios (like a truer Scorpio, she kept that from me, right up to the very end; she got her Obama-present ON her birthday), and we are both (just now for her) in that glorious decade we call our 50s. Along with the passionate elegance of Anno's writing itself, you will also find that a visit to her place is like sitting in your favorite chair in your favorite room, the design of her site is so lovely.

In closing, I suppose I should give a shout out to my old buddies at The New Republic. When I left Cambridge and moved back to Tres Leches thirty-three years ago, I began my subscription to the fine old rag, largely for Stanley Kauffman's movie reviews (SK, still writing, must be 176 years old now) and the arts section. We parted ways, some time during my New Orleans days, I'm not even sure why (it was not because they had acted like the Flick Filosopher, I can assure you). Marty Peretz is passionately, partisanly, aggressively pro-Israel, and I'm sure Israel needs all the Marty's she can get, but it seems as if he is completely unable/unwilling to hear the passionately sane voices from the other sides of the Palestinian issue. He is also not above some heavy warmongering, if he deems the issue worth the fight. I suspect it was some drumbeating helped my subscription after many years to lapse. At any rate, I found myself back at the TNR trough several times daily in the run-up to the November 4th celebration, galloping through the archives, too, and greatly enjoying the quiet and measured confidence that was growing in support of Barack's (and we, the people's) victory.

Rebecca, Tammie, Anno, and yes, you too Marty: you all are loved. Thank you blessing all of us.

(While we're on all the love, Brother Teddy's "Love TKO," like manna from heaven, has arrived at the tail end of the playlist. I think this will get you there. Think I betta let it go...)


And Torches Up a Fire Inside of Me

I wanted The Waterboys version (you can find it on me playlist), but this one is quite fine, stripped down, not as lush as Mike Scott's take. I don't know Ecki, but you can pay him a visit, too. I'm sure he'd like the company.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Meme Love

From Ms Anno, comes a meme theme: Seven Things I Love That Start with the Letter L. Since I “love” things all the time, these were just the first things that came to mind: the list is by no means comprehensive (meaning, there are many other Ls that could have made the list, were I awake enough to have remembered them), but the list is still a good snapshot of loves through the years, some still loved actively, some still loved somewhere off in the Western Seas of Memory.

1. (Mountain) Laurel: Mountain laurel is an exotically, erotically, intoxicatingly ambrosial tree that blooms here in Tres Leches in the waning days of February and the first two weeks of March. By the ides, say, the blooms be gone: throughout the year, you’ll find the tree’s seed pods strewn abounding: inside the pods are gorgeous red seeds said to have hallucinogenic qualities: the blooms are, as I say, ambrosial enough: I’ve not tested out the characteristics of the seeds themselves: I’ll take folks’ words for it.

When I first moved back to Tres Leches from Cambridge, back in the fall of 1975, I rented a lovely efficiency apartment in a house on Joliet Street. Come late February of the next year (though in those days, I would not have been cognizant of the timing), the tree outside my bathroom window burst into a lavender explosion of blooms that filled my entire apartment with its glory. I was ablaze with the color and scent and, horticulturally challenged as I was in those days, completely mystified by the abrupt disappearance three weeks after the florid annunciation.

Why start the meme list here? In February 1998, as mountain laurel exploded all over Austin, Texas, my heart exploded with its own ambrosial intoxication, as Ms Tina Karagulian and I walked across bridges of fire to weave our lives together. Heady times then, heady times still, always especially heady as the ambrosial trees derange the senses and hearts of one and all. Mountain laurel is Tina Karagulian in full bloom.

In those early heady days, we made a trip out to the ancestral lands in West Texas, to my grandparents’ now parents’ ranch, to make our way down to the Frio River on the land’s western boundary. As we walked through a grove of trees to the river bank, we came out at a point where one lone mountain laurel tree stood in abundant bloom.

A few years ago, we traveled to Lost Maples State Park for an anniversary weekend and hiked five miles through the hills in a blissfully soaking rain: the hills were an avalanche of lavender blooms.

2. Last (7th) Period at the Instituto: One of my most recent loves, this freshman English class is heaven-sent. I love all my classes, but this one is amazingly special: a class of nine boys, all of whom are ardent lovers of writing and literature, with minds that are always clicking with wonderful insights and connections. During my first two years here, I learned the arts of accommodation, speed of light teaching, slant-teaching, indirection—all skills I had already perfected in my twenty years as a therapist. I learned that dawning days of “learning” are like mountain laurel—they explode out of nowhere, they are intoxicating when they descend, but they NEVER (here, the metaphor breaks down) happen two days in a row. (Thankfully, they are not limited to just three weeks in late February through mid March; in fact, as close as those days are to spring break, those are days when learning is least likely to occur.)

However, this last period class from the gods—class OF the gods—is an amazing treat, a gloppy gloopy extra hot fudge sundae of creativity and intellect and passion. Hoolawd. I suspect that teaching has a special portal: if you dedicate yourself to the craft and pass through the Scylla and Charybdis of two years of happy dancing tai chi cha cha cha, you are, when you least expect it, rewarded with a Last Period English class that rocks the world.

3. Lolita: It’s been years since I read VN’s humming masterpiece, his road trip passionista. I’m not even sure that I would ever read it again, but it represents—along with Pynchon and Burgess and Faulkner and Fowles—a time when I turned into a passionate reader and not just an English major trying to decode what the hell was going on, time spent living for the read, living for sharing the joys of reading Lolita in a parking lot before work at Villa Rosa, or reading Gravity’s Rainbow while atop a hill country canyon while waiting to shoot a laser distance for a surveying map in the Texas hill country. Time spent with friend Steph in conversations invariably about these saints in our lives. The shock on the day I learned of VN’s death, that an immortal such as he would actually depart like the rest of us.

4. Denise Levertov: Not my favorite poet, but certainly not my un-favorite poet either: she, along with teacher Hoa Nguyen, initiated me into the making of poems. I stumbled upon her in the downtown Austin library and devoured her poems and essays, as she began to map a way for me into a world of crafting on the small canvas of a white page. Through her, back to Olson and all the other Black Mountaineers, and that first traversing continues to this day. It didn’t hurt that she was a sister Scorpio to boot.

5. Last Train Home: A cut, the last cut, on Pat Metheny’s album Still Life (Talking). Again, here, it’s not the cut so much as what it represents and encapsulates. I first discovered PM just before graduate school in Austin, while in self-exile/sabbatical out in the boonies of Uvalde County, unable at the time to truly appreciate the gift of being able to read abundantly while sitting atop canyons and shooting occasional laser-surveyed distances. I had “important” “things” to “do.” PM’s music was a connection to the rest of my life still calling. This album was another of those six months on the turntable discs. Thinking of it also takes me back to friend Tommy, one of the casualties of relationship wars that can ensue, after bridges are burned and dismantled, a friend who shared my passion for this album, a friend who triumphantly rode down St. Charles Avenue with me, atop a Krewe of Thoth float, as I magnanimously set a six foot rubber snake into the opened bosom of a lovely diva awaiting our largesse in the Mardi Gras’d streets of long ago New Orleans.

6. Lapsang souchong tea: I found this smoky delight during the New Orleans daze, high tea at the most elegant Windsor Court Hotel, luxurious splendor for the townies who would never think of actually paying out the wazoo to stay there, high tea was plenty fine, thank you: cucumber sandwiches, scones with lemon curd, chocolate-dipped strawberries, classical music—tawny port? Sure, why not. Tea infused and dropped into the pot, cream and sugar. Did someone say tawny? Decidedly so. Decidedly.

7. LeRuth’s: Favorite restaurant in all the lands, hands down. Long gone on to the Western Seas, to live in all our memories. Tiny little funky-doodle village of Gretna, Louisiana, expanded Creole cottage on the West Bank of New Orleans, you love food you make the pilgrimage to these nethers, it ain’t the fancy side of town at all, but within the elegant walls and rooms, the most divine and divinely inspired food is set before you, Warren L the genius in the kitchen, his boys learning beside him to carry it on, foot cushions, yes foot cushions, under the ladies’ feet, everything, as our waiters assure us, made especially for you. Mandarin orange sorbet to cleanse the palate, just before the entrée, are we in heaven, or have we ascended higher? Bread pudding of the gods, and the night that one bottle of Dom Perignon was just…not…enough. Years ago, lives ago, planets ago, wardrobes ago, incomes ago, mentalities ago, and that particular double-Dom night was after an afternoon spent at Jeff’s Haberdashery, Tommy there again, twin Armani boyz with the clothes that “popped.” Good god, people, could it have been any other time than the hedonistic gravy train days of the Borax president? Of course not.

Many thanks to Anno for the prompt. Those who care to tag themselves, dial up Ms. Anno and she’ll ship you a letter muy pronto. Molto bene.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Flash Thursday

As We Dream

Toothless gambling, homespun madrigals, wide-eyed ablutions, the Navel of God in the marketplace, meccas of tenuous acubation. The Angel of Gawd yawned into the crystal night, never-vescent, a darkness cold as the Western Seas. We wept to see her decline, tears and avatars splitting time between now and the last pearl of the systemic down. I’d wandered far and never before seen such waste—jettisoned carpenters of wisdom, castabouts, signal territories, adjutants of tired glory.

“Fill the ends, narrow the straits, pillory the rottenness of the world as we dream its terrible ruin.”

She sat with her head upon the table, drooling beyond all semblance of rational thought, apple-cheeked innocence overrun by the sewers of acutorsion, five-headed arteries, dying fires in kestrel desolation.

I ventured farther: inventoried waifs filled the warehouses of despair. Color ran in the streets, color vomited in the air. There was little left beyond increments of the deranged, severaled beyond repair. The seas were upon us, the fetid cries from within.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Flashing III


Sin and Zevon at Trader Vic’s, strangers, werewolves on the loose, Argentinean vessels of carnage, the overthrow of vellum, past participles of night. Agon abounding, vitriol in the streets. Asian men and women with Peruvian cigars, the shining path of viperous dignity. Unction, last unction, but then when is it not? Five star litanies of blood, seventh waves of starry night, spectral floods down Andean slopes.

“Paraguay,” said Frank to Warren, his plosives slipping and turning grey. Warren blushed to see the transformation; his legal paradigms were shifting.

“It grieves me deeply,” said Warren. His Olsons were coated with soot; doom is never pretty, not even sumptuous doom.

Dinner was on me, but I stayed in the background. I’d seen ambrosial success and I wanted nothing more to do with it. I wanted cast iron nausea, variant pleasures—something the dogs would never drag in. Cats at play, nocturnal mouse dreams, lush rodent life raining down on the nuns of Calle Veronica, good old Bernice, saint of the holy washcloth, wiping down the stains of dusty travelers, annihilating the merriest of holy ghosts, serving up a classic mortuary Benedictine feast.


Flashing II

Over, He Said

Dragonflies on the appalling bridge, rifling through memories, down the river, drowning aloud, charismatic variance in the normal spacing of the scattering in the corner. Charles syllabizing, the quest for meaning on the board, the interstices, the varicose veins of Utopian vigilance, the afterglare of prescience. Terrifying, vagrant infantry, calibrated vineyards, pulmonary night.

Loncito Cartwright woke from fitful dreams, sweat pouring, black sun blazing beneath the talkative good friends of midnight. No spacing is normal, no webs condensed, no reveries beyond insertions of edited styles. Carry me over, he said. We withdrew into the confessional corners, wording the missives, accelerating the ghosts, validating the passports to hell.

Four faces of hatred, four faces of misinterpretation. Loncito staggered past his life, the double eagle, every twenty seconds the downladders of misery. Loncito: “Tell exactly, not nearly, not hopefully, not patiently, not without guile. And tell now.”

Knowledgeable, friendly, digital—null and void. Subtitles in the dark. Whispers in eddying doom.

Loncito: “Calcify. It grows if you try. It grows in the measures.”

“It doesn’t stay up. It’s escrow. Beyond the pale.”

Loncito: “Vertiginous.”

In Norristown, we stopped for the ten major things. They had eight; two were lifted. Seven minutes earlier, we could have scored.



We’re flash-fictioning, prose-poeming in the English classes, so there’s bound to be a flurry, as I write along. The middlings had these words to incorporate in 179 words: impure, ocean of fire, Arabia, tall tales, 3000, a man or woman’s name, and the name Alyssa (in honor of N’s crush). We’d just finished watching “Hidalgo,” hence the words.

All Three Thousand of Them

Impure Martians, an ocean of fiery Spartans, renegades, the question of emulsion as milk, emulsion as milkiness, if you dig deeply enough, perhaps part of the earth’s core is emulsion, milk, the mother’s breast, milk, lost in the emulsion of blather, blathering talk, cheese unemulsified rolling down the hill, Alyssa as the official pancake topping, an abbreviated flurry, all three thousand of them, as if Arabia were not the Patricia of your dreams—my mind, it says something—everywhere and nowhere, salmon upstreaming the tall tales, the platypus mistake, Patricia again, full of the dentistry of evil, the quizzical end storm, Alyssa in the final end game, all the lava of your renegade dreams, clairvoyant night chickens scuttling down the bank, the fistula, trapped in the middle, brain spasms, the hole in your mind, chasms, Argentinean werewolves of the seventh night.

Appalling bridge to nowhere, wherefore art thou, rifling the edge of mystic rivers, endless caverns, the opposite of your freedom flight. End it here, end in there, end it without Bruce, end it without even asking, end it.

(Illustration: “The Blob,” by Amanda. I think it looks like a clairvoyant night chicken.)

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Monday, November 10, 2008


James Livingston, from the Politics and Letters website:

Great artists stand at the heart of change, telling us where it can and should lead. They glimpse what is evident and yet unknown to the rest of us, and in doing so they introduce us to a new, unfinished world that is nevertheless familiar. They put into words, or pictures, or sounds, what we've been trying to say, or to see, or to hear; they translate our inchoate, archaic languages of mere desire into usable, vernacular forms. That is why we know they're right, even though we didn't know it just before we encountered their ideas. They somehow express the truths we've been waiting for--or rather they embody the possibilities we've been hoping for. The thrill of recognition and the work of identification follow, even as we acknowledge that these artists are nothing like us.

Great politicians have the same effect on us, usually by mapping another country, a new nation, and convincing us that we can get there. Lincoln did. But even by this lofty standard, Barack Obama is already a great politician. At any rate he's convinced me that we're already on our way to the place he's seen.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Everyone's In On It

Check Out this Card I Just Received!

Check Out this Card I Just Received!

Create your own!

And my thank you response:

My Fellow Americans (and Alaskan secessionista): I was truly honored by your gracious sentiments on mi cumpleanos, my goodness, who would have expected such a fine example of bipartisan sentiment, especially on your parts, Joe and Ms Barricuda. Here's to a lifetime spent in the snows of Wasilla (I think you've served your country well, SP, but we need you most up there keepin' an eye on those pesky Ruskies runnin' across your lawn). Joe, here's to keeping it all under $250 K and out of the socialists' clutches. Barack and San, y'all rock!


Saturday, November 08, 2008

Shall We?

The New Republic
Diarist: That Night
by Leon Wieseltier
Post Date Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The leaves were not all that was changing in Lafayette Park. I had never before seen a patriotic mosh-pit, but I was gladly trapped in one outside the White House in the hours after Barack Obama's inexorable but still unimaginable victory. I had also never seen young people march on the White House in the cause of joy. But now hundreds of exhilarated students had put down their copies of Negri and Hardt and lucidly picked up American flags, and as they flowed in from Pennsylvania Avenue in the rainy night they sang "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America." I do not mean to exaggerate the beauty of the scene--it was also boorish and hormonal, and I doubt that there was a soul among the cheering, hoodied, text-messaging crowd who cared much about, say, what General Kayani told General Petraeus; but I would be lying, I would be hardened in precisely the way I do not wish to be hardened, if I did not report that the scene was beautiful. When they began to cry "USA! USA!", the jingoistic crudity of the chant was gone; and while they were finding their way to the ferocious assertion of the love of country that had been the trademark of their Republican counterparts, those same counterparts on the other side of the country, the ones now marooned in the Palin-Jindal-Hensarling primitivism, were disgracing John McCain, a lost but wrenchingly honorable man, by jeering at the mention of the new president's name. Americans who were not moved by what happened the other night were in some way un-American. A dry eye was a misinterpretation of American history.

There are moments
when pure feeling is also intelligent feeling. When suddenly CNN revealed its wall-sized announcement of the outcome, I experienced a blissful and unembarrassed rush of racialism. Only a hologram of Frederick Douglass would have excited me more. In that instant, forgive me, all I cared to know about Barack Obama was his color. A man of mixed race--no, an African American--no, a black man--no, let us not forget the whole odious story, a Negro--was elected to the presidency of the United States. There could be no more definitive demonstration of the American system of possibility than this; none. The oldest and most plausible pessimism of all had been retired. I recognized that this was a triumph for all of us, but before it was a triumph for all of us it was a triumph for some of us, and I was happy for them, for my black brothers and sisters, before I was happy for me. They had borne so much and waited so long. On this night they had overcome. And so my happiness was quickly complicated by a solemn sensation of respect: what were the tears in my eyes compared to the tears in their eyes? According to Obama's ideal of inclusiveness, they were the ones being included in my American narrative; but somehow I felt also like I was being included in their American narrative, and I was honored to have a place in it. Their elevation elevated me, too. Equality is universal, but the paths to equality are particular. As we glorified our similarities, I bowed my head before our differences, which are blessings when they are not curses.

Many years ago
I had an interesting disagreement with a writer for my pages, who concluded an essay with an observation about the joy of justice. I objected that justice cannot be accompanied by joy, because it is preceded by injustice. The consciousness of tragedy can be assuaged, but it cannot be eradicated. The morning after the epiphany in America, I remarked a little sheepishly to a friend that from the way I had surrendered to my emotions, you would think that my own ancestors were slaves. And then I saw it: I had surrendered to my emotions because my own ancestors were slaves. How can a Jew, I mean a Jewish Jew, not rejoice at the election of Barack Obama? Not politically, where the road ahead may be rough; but historically, spiritually. We, too, remember the pharaohs; and we, too, choose never to hate the world; and we, too, have a hope of being saved by America. Our path to freedom was simpler, of course: we did not seek our freedom in the society in which we were enslaved. But like the black community in America, the Jewish community in America is wrestling with the lucky but harsh dissonance between progress and memory. Our experience is discontinuous with the experience of our ancestors. Their ordeals are increasingly unrecognizable to us, and we do not possess a natural knowledge of their pressures and their pains. And as our identification with victims and martyrs becomes inexact and even preposterous, we may be tormented by the suspicion that contentment is a form of treason. That is why some among us caution us not to be fooled by America, and grimly proclaim that our adversity is our destiny. I expect that in the African American community there will soon arise similar fatalists, who will remind their brethren of the tenacity of prejudice, and instruct that an African American in the White House is not the solution to all of black America's problems. They will be right, but they will be wrong. Their reluctance to challenge the bleakness in their tradition damages their sense of the actual. But the presidency of Barack Obama represents the glittering culmination of the African-American gamble on America, and the grand repudiation of the lachrymosity that is one of the foundations of a minority's identity. It is hard, but it is heroic, to believe the best when you are regularly commemorating the worst.

I woke up
the next morning still under the spell of solidarity and love. I decided to make the spell last. I gave away my tickets to a performance of some late Shostakovich quartets, because for once I was not interested in the despair. Instead I spent the day listening to the Ebonys and the Chi-Lites and the Isley Brothers. For lunch I went to Georgia Brown's for fried green tomatoes. A day of dopey symbols, I admit. But reality, or the rest of it, will have to wait. It will be back soon enough; and anyway the election of a black president is also an element of reality. My elation about the Obama presidency is not to be confused with my expectation of the Obama administration. But for now I will defer my fears and my anxieties, and revel in a fact. And if, in the words of Derek Walcott, this season lasted one moment,

like the pause

between dusk and darkness,

between fury and peace,

... for such as our earth is now,

it lasted long.

Leon Wieseltier is the literary editor of
The New Republic.