X-Mas Cannot Escape

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One of the times I was back visiting Florida I was at my parents’ house browsing their bookshelves and came across a copy of Light in August, by William Faulkner. Inside the book, there were a lot of sentences underlined and words circled and notes in the margins. It was my sister’s handwriting, and the book she had read in high school for her English class. I browsed some of the passages and was impressed with what I read, so I brought the book with me back to Berlin, and started to read it last week. I am almost finished with it, and looking forward to reading As I Lay Dying later this year possibly, after I clear up some half-reads in my shelves. In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that 31 years have passed since my sister put all the little markings in this book. Little did she know then that the next time the book would be read would be 31 years later by me while living in Berlin, Germany. 31 years ago, the Berlin Wall was still up, and I was 15 years old. I was not a reader. I hated literature. I hated school too, and would only ever do the bare minimum to get a passing grade. I don’t know how I got through my English classes. I never read any of the books that were assigned. I just let myself fail on certain tests and went on daydreaming about sports, and the beautiful girls I would never get, joking and drawing cartoons of my teachers and peers and figuring out how to get drunk. Speaking of which, I had to go to Alcoholics Anonymous at 17 years old. The school sent me. The school said I needed to go every Saturday morning for a month after being found drinking beers in the press box of the football stadium after school. I was drunk up there, watching the marching band warm up for that night’s game. I got suspended for 5 days too, and that was just when my grades were starting to go up.

Well, I graduated somehow. And then I used the same scraping by techniques to make it through college. I graduated from Florida State University with a Business Marketing degree, but do you think I had any interest in business? Hell no. I wasn’t interested in anything but getting wasted and laid (in that order) until literature found me my last year there. A girl I had been dating said I reminded her of the Dean Moriarty character in On the Road, and bought me the book for me. I thought it had potential looking at the cover, but thought the viewpoint of the narrator was too naïve. I’d already been corrupted. Total disappointment, I thought, and I wasn’t much like Dean Moriarty. But the book primed me for Bukowski’s Hot Water Music, and then came titans like Nietzsche, and Turgenev, and Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground. By the time I graduated, I was obsessed with literature. I am still obsessed. It’s a sickness, actually. But I think a lot of it is a making up for what I deprived myself of when I was young. All those years on a false path. My apathy back then. The feeling something got away from me eons ago, and trying to get it back, and half-knowing it’s too late. I struggle with this every day, but I accept. You can’t rearrange history and it’s no use being angry at the sun for rising when it does.

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Here I Am

It’s no news that can’t listen to sad songs. I like cheerful and uplifting songs. Sad songs cut too deep into my circuitry. They get me thinking about that heaviest of all themes, loss – either the ones I’ve had, or the possibilities of others – and turn me into an emotional waste, especially if I have a few drops of booze in my bloodstream. I can’t do it. Give me cheerful and uplifting songs. Give me ones that make my spirit soar and leave me to my denial and my philosophy books. Plato. Schopenhauer. Nietzsche. It’s much easier for the head to wrap itself around the theme of loss than the heart, and it helps too – philosophy is preparation. It teaches us how to die and accept death. It teaches us how to get through sad songs, like this new one by little-known The Boxer Rebellion, which I was listening to this morning, and weeping. I love it. Don’t ask me why. I guess because it transcends in a way the others don’t, and the flower-of-the-heart in its growing and exfoliating – it can’t stay dried-up forever. We’re all masochists sometimes.

A Dryness Hollering Out for Death

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Last week, while I was struggling to think of something to write for this blog, I put it aside for a moment and began a new novel. The novel has owned me pretty much every day since, and I’m sure it will own me for the next few years at least, but I’ve vowed to do something I didn’t do on the two previous novels I wrote – Fortuna Berlin and Ramblin’ Fever – and that’s take lots of breaks from it to write on this blog, and write poetry, and draw, and hopefully figure out how to work with paint. In the meantime, it’s the second day of Spring, and it’s snowing here in Berlin. It’s not good snow. It’s the false kind. The kind that melts the moment it touches earth, and makes everything look wet and soggy and halfsuicidal. Perfect writing weither. But I won’t be doing that today. Today I am with my son watching cartoons in German and getting jumped on and trying to get through Light in August, by William Faulkner, which is humbling to say least. I’d only read a few short stories of his before. Never knew he was this good. Must’ve been all that Southern whiskey he drank.

Here’s a poem of mine that was published in Gyroscope Review a few months back.

A Dryness Hollering Out for Death

Men that I have known
who once had the strength of the mighty
Pacific in them, with backbones
made of molten organ pipes, and minds in torrid
wakefulness;
to see them now reduced
to the echo of an empty conch shell,
to husks of long-departed
insects, thinning, dried-up,
cracked.

Men that I have known
who once were brimming with wild
stories and undiscovered ferocities,
washed-up now,
longing for long-gone
days, trying to subsist off songs
and culture the world had long since drawn
the spirit out of.

Maybe you’ve seen one
standing in line at the supermarket,
or mowing his lawn, or driving in the car next to you,
this angry, decomposing,
pot-scraping infertility,
a dryness hollering out for death,
a stone-gray shadow.

With nothing left to say.
With nothing left to be.
With nothing left to give.
(The worse tragedy of them all.)

The men I have known.

Just Touch the Harp Gently My Pretty Louise

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Just Touch the Harp Gently My Pretty Louise

I see no reason to stand
in the glaring
streetlights of certitude. I’d rather keep
things androgynous,
with a hint of plum
and vanilla in the ruby red varietal.

I prefer mystagogue
liquid dancing
with the Queen of Sheba and Spanishing
the handorgan
while you play the human heart.

I don’t want to know about
nuclear-powered
Pyongyang,
or the wingspan of the griffon
vulture and its breeding practices in lower elevations.

I want to love you
in parables
and string theory; to disorder the principles
of your priceless
imbroglios.

It’s your thighs miles to which I aspire.

Thrashing sea clouds and harlequins d’amore.

Rainy Day Madrigal

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In the soft gray light outside my window, the bare trees are dripping, the brown leaves in the garden lay wet and curled up in the mud, and there’s a crow perched on a water-logged wooden post in the corner, its hoarse caws rattling the air. In the distance, behind a network of thin, spidering branches and soggy evergreens, there’s a pale apartment building full of unlit windows and empty balconies, and the clouds hanging over everything, and the trains traveling to and fro around the city, and the noises of delivery trucks and cars and minivans, their tires splashing through puddles and over the wet streets, circling the Siegessäule, anent Unter den Linden, the sky drowning in itself, the ghosts of World War II wandering
Sankt-Hedwigs-Kathedrale and the Elsenbrücke and the halls of the Alte Nationalgalerie.

And the people in the cold and the rain and the soft gray light, the people bracing against the elements as they move along the damp pavements, their faces buried in their scarves and collars, the pain in their eyes speaking of the dumb-felt misery and melancholy of the day.

I walk upon my bed and reach up and close the curtains. I jump off the bed. Shadows dance on the walls. Tea lights. Electric eels. CrankshaftsandthecumbustibledragonsofLowerMongolia. Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque No.2 in D minor, Op.9 wheels and rages through the air, and for a moment I am seized with euphoria. There are hours ahead of me. To write or to drink and to be inside myself. To be locked away from the rain and the cold in the soft gray light, from the crows cawing, from the brown wet leaves curled up in the mud, and from the people.

Anima Aria

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This poem was published a few months ago, in a slightly altered form, in Gyroscope Review.

Anima Aria

She’d turn up just enough
so you couldn’t forget
she existed
and disappear as quickly as she came.

And then you’d go looking for her
with helicopter
searchlights, high in the mountains,
by midsummer fire, along bright murmuring
shores,
in abandoned old insane asylums.

“Where’d you go?” you’d mutter to yourself.

And just when you were about to give up
you’d see her elegant shadow
in a hallway
of marble; or she’d become the taste
of strawberry milk or ripples on an ocean glittering
like dragon scales.

“Come over here and stay
with me,” you’d say, your voice cracked
with desperation.

But then she’d be gone again,
and you’d be left again
to your phantasms and vagaries,
or whatever you’d spent all your life chasing,
knowing but never admitting the end was futile,
the chase
was beautiful enough.

Diary of a Superfluous Man (in a Supermarket)

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About a year ago, I was in the check-out line at a supermarket I occasionally go to, and went to pay with a debit card that’s connected my bank account in the States. The cashier, a middle-aged woman with short auburn hair, asked me for my passport. I didn’t have it on me, so I showed her my Florida driver’s license. As it turned out, she too was from Florida, somewhere near Orlando. We then had a short, but very pleasant conversation about Florida, and Berlin, and our love of living abroad and a few other things.

After that, I packed up my groceries, and I have not talked to her since, though I’ve seen her several times working one of the registers. There’s usually about three or four open there, and something in me – I don’t know what – won’t let me go into hers and reacquaint, even if the line’s much shorter. I guess I prefer to remain anonymous while shopping. I don’t want to get emotionally involved in the thing, on any level, even if it’s just thirty seconds of niceties and small talk. I can’t risk it.

I was in that supermarket again yesterday, my basket stuffed with milk and beer and Old El Paso Mexican food, avocados and bananas. I walked toward the check-out lines with some hesitation, looking to see if there was a crop of short auburn hair sticking up over the registers. There was. My Orlando friend was in #3. I went to number #4, the one her back was facing. It was safe there, no niceties, though the line was a bit longer that all the others. It was worth the extra wait. But while I was waiting, I began to realize how ridiculous I was. Still, nothing was going to change my idée fixe. I would continue avoiding her.

What would I do though, I wondered, if I’d come here and she was the only cashier working? Would I put my groceries back and sneak off to another supermarket? There were several nearby. Or would I force myself through her line and face the music? If I did the latter, would I pretend we’d never met before? It had been a year. She’d probably long since forgotten about me, and would never recognize me. Yeah, I’d probably do that. I’d probably give her the debit card from my local bank and pretend to be a German, keeping my words to a bare minimum so my accent wouldn’t betray me.

 

Myopia Blues

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The past few weeks I’ve been doing revisions on my novel Ramblin’ Fever, and have gotten out of the habit of blogging, which is kind of like getting thrown off a horse. Excuse the weak analogy. I’m only trying to say that I have so much to say that I can hardly say anything because the momentum has shifted and moved into another direction.

I’ve been through three major hurricanes in my life. After one of the hurricanes, the town of Boynton Beach was in such shambles with all the felled trees and downed powerlines and inoperable traffic lights that you began to see things you’d never seen before, and knew you never would again. One aberration I saw was a garage mechanic from Valero standing in the middle of Federal Highway directing traffic as if he knew what he was doing. Well, I feel about like him right now, trying to redirect my energy and hubris back to the blogosphere. You see, I have this mental deficiency. My mind is horribly one-track, worse than anyone’s I know, and it’s been this way for as long as I can remember. I was 10 when I had my first girlfriend, if you can believe that. We never kissed or anything. I couldn’t even look at her when I was around her I was so shy. But we would talk for hours on the phone, and we were in love with each other. But I had to break up with her. Baseball season was coming, and I couldn’t have both love and baseball on my mind. It would take up too much headspace. Something had to get cut and I regretted it for years.

This same phenomenon exists to this day in many aspects of my life, the most obvious to me being writing. If I am working on my novel, I can’t write, or think about writing anything else – not a blog, not a poem, not an email I’m supposed to return to someone, nothing. I must be hyper focused on the task at hand. This also holds true in my reading. For the last several years, I would juggle several books at a time – a novel, a book of philosophy, one on politics, a poetry collection, and so forth. This works in spades for my goombah extraordinaire Herr Bryan Ray, but for me the result was that none of the books get finished; instead, they end up in my ever-growing pile of unfinished books, and I’m never be quite sure if it was I who failed the author or the other way around. So my vow this year has been to go back to many of those discarded books, and read them one at a time, without letting any other book nudge its snout into the fold and disturb my constricted vision. So far it’s worked. In the past month and a half or so, I’ve finished two books that I’d previously struggled with: Joyce’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, and Kafka (The Metamorphosis and The Judgement auf Deutsch). I also read The Complete Correspondence of Flaubert and Turgenev, Moravagine, by Blaise Cendrars, and a book of short stories by William Saroyan. All these books were great. I highly recommend them all, but if it weren’t for my new line of thinking (which accords with my old line of thinking in my 20s when I was a voracious reader), who knows how many I’d have finished? I feel better now. The moral: if you have a one-track mind like mine, go with it. But don’t let it come between you and your other important loves. There’s a balance in everything. Find it.