Berlin – Newark – Ft. Lauderdale

I can never sleep very well the night before an early flight, but it’s especially bad whenever I take the long, connecting flight from Berlin to Miami or vice versa. It happened again this last trip. I was tired all evening, but the moment my head hit the pillow, it was as though I’d become electrified. I felt like what I imagine a bird must feel like when it’s molting. I stayed awake most of the night flapping my wings and ruffling my feathers. Then at 6 a.m. my alarm went off. I got ready, said goodbye to Erica, and headed to the train station just as the sun was coming up over the city. I was listening to Miles Davis, Kind of Blue on my headphones. I’ve been meaning to do a blog about this great album for ages, but in the meantime, I will only say that I know of no piece of music that goes better with the changing moods of a city than this. It’s especially good on a rainy day, or late at night, or in the very early morning. I thought of all the cities I’d listened to it in: Miami, San Francisco, Chicago, London, Amsterdam, Dublin, Madrid, Lisbon, Cologne, Prague, Vienna, Leipzig, so on, so forth, and it’s never gotten old. Like all the best music it’s got a mysterious eternal quality in its melodies; people will be listening to it centuries from now.

The flight left Berlin and 9:45, and I was lucky enough to have gotten a row of three seats in the back of the plane to myself. After we took off I lifted the armrests, threw the blankets over me and, with the help of some Xanax, managed to get about a half hour sleep. The flight was pretty uneventful. I read some Dostoevsky, watched an excellent sports documentary called In Search of Greatness, and did a few sketches.

Later, I looked out the window and saw this drab patch of wasted landscape, melting snow, factory buildings, belching smokestacks, clumps of dead brown trees. It was Newark. I had two hours to kill there before my next flight. We landed, disembarked. I went through the security checkpoints and came out on the other side looking for something to eat. There were plenty of places to choose but the prices were outrageous, even by airport standards. I ended up paying $12.99 for a small, refrigerated chicken wrap, and sat at my gate watching the passersby, who looked a lot like the outside landscape.

There was a restaurant about twenty feet from me. There was top 40 music blaring from it, TV screens everywhere, and tablets lined up on every table, god forbid someone should be bored or alone with their thoughts while eating. Well, that wasn’t anything new or unique to the Newark airport. Everywhere you go it seems the powers that be are using whatever devices possible to keep you from going into yourself. Silent contemplation is an evil that the masses just can’t deal with and so they must be protected from it at all times with noise, flashing lights, graphics, buttons, song, subliminal text, boobs, phallic symbols, tickers, news-of-the-day, gossip, sports, bloodshed, applause, likes, shiny objects, etc. Without these they are lost; without these they would revert to their barbarian selves and torture, maim, disembowel, burn at the stake, rob, berate and attack each other, not to mention take their business elsewhere. The powers that be know this. They know you must keep the limbic system of the human animal assuaged with distractions to keep civilization in order. But for the artist, the poet and philosopher, ennui and silent contemplation is like music to the soul; it’s a kindly old friend who should be let in the door as often as possible, even when everyone and everything around you is telling you otherwise.

At times the world sees straight, but many times the world goes astray.” ~ Horace

I am now back in South Florida, and already have much to report about the clip artists and religious wingnuts that have come into the shop this week, but that’s for another blog. I’m still getting settled in here.

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A Hero of Our Time

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Who are the heroes of our time? I was thinking about this question the other day, and I’m sure for everyone it’s someone different. For me, it’s not a specific person. I don’t have any living heroes, unfortunately. But I do have an image of a hero. I am picturing a man of no particular race or age. He’s an artist of some sort – a poet, or a poet-painter, or a poet-musician, or some combo of the three. He’s also a minimalist. His needs are very few, and he’s learned to shut out most 21st century distractions. He’s not on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any of the other social media sites, although he may have a blog. In fact, he does have a blog – the peacock must show his feathers off somewhere.

This man tries to keep one foot in the unknown as much as possible but also has a structured routine. He wears the same outfit every day. Black trousers and a black t-shirt. His wardrobe used to have more colors in it, but in a world where a man is assailed by so many hundreds of choices so many times a day, to have one less wherever possible is the best choice. His diet too is very sparse. He drinks coffee in the morning and eats very little – fruit, eggs, nuts, a small piece of chocolate; for lunch, he has the same thing every day – a liverwurst sandwich; and dinner is homemade, although he might eat out one night a week. His only extravagance with what he ingests is alcohol. He drinks wine, beer, hard liquor, all to excess, not so much because he’s addicted to it, but for the sake of his art. His Muses demand it.

“Ever since Liber enlisted barely sane poets among the satyrs and fauns, the sweet Muses as a rule have smelled of wine in the morning.” ~ Horace

Being drunk or hungover also gives new eyes to his art. Sobriety only sees half the picture, and too much sobriety is fatal – it’s how you end up with a Donald Trump, a Hitler or the Islamic extremist. It’s his firm belief that the halls of poetry are closed to water-drinkers. He also holds in high esteem Rimbaud’s famous line that the poet makes himself a seer by the long, immense and rational derangement of the senses.

Other than Horace, our hero’s heroes include many of the ancient Greeks, the famous Russian novelists and short story writers of the 19th century, a handful of German philosophers from the 19th and 20th centuries, and Meister Eckhart, William Blake, Beethoven, Bach, Delacroix, Van Gogh, Baudelaire, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce. It’s books by these authors that he will read first thing in the morning as opposed to the latest news cycle. That’s not to say he doesn’t pay attention to current events. He does, but only in small doses, and from the most detached perspective possible, so as not to get too much mud in his hair. What fascinates him most in politics are the eternal qualities of human nature to be found in it, and where these go slack, so does attention.

He sees no need to try to save the world if it cannot be saved by art. And he is not tainted by greed. He might’ve been tainted in his youth due to immaturity and the culture he grew up in, but never to much of an extreme, and he has seen enough to know that the rich are often the most miserable, and there’s very little – if anything – that they have that’s worth envying. Their lives are almost certainly empty beneath the façade, and his art is what he loves. Bringing it out from the very center of him like a silkworm does its thread. He only needs as much money as it takes for him to do that as often as possible and has no machinations or plans to defraud anyone in any business.

Our hero could live anywhere – in a big city, in a small seaside town, in the mountains. Wherever it is, he can often be seen talking brisk 1-2-hour walks, usually in the afternoon or early evening or sometimes very late at night, after he’s done with his creations. He goes out in search of some beautiful thing he vaguely intuits. He doesn’t know what it is, but he knows it’s somewhere. He looks for it in the faces of the passing people, in the reflections of the mountain stream, in shop windows, in the changing shapes of the clouds. He feels he is getting closer to finding it every day. Every day he trembles on the edge of it and every day comes home empty handed. But art is his meditation, his silkworm’s thread, his mad, wall-eyed ecstasy, and sometimes he finds it in there.

“For whether we agree with the Greek poet that ‘Sometimes it is sweet to be mad,’ or with Plato that ‘A man sound in mind knocks in vain at the doors of poetry,’ or with Aristotle that ‘No great intellect has been without a touch of madness,’ only a mind that is deeply stirred can utter something that is beyond the power of others.” ~ Seneca

Poem: Insomnia

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This was first published here, along with 4 other poems on Menacing Hedge.

Insomnia

3 a.m., in Wedding, and the wet streets gleam like blown glass;
trees in a broad current appear to be sailing off.
A heavy truck idles at a gate,
hazards flashing.
A shadow climbs out.

3 a.m., in a phosphorescence among sunflowers,
devoured by peacocks
and grey wolves
and the voice in the walls.

The sky swirls with glaze-green tidepools, a ring of Nibelungs,
fog-white, blue-pale,
gliding fires and no sign of dawn.

3 a.m., in a building of dark halls, locked doors
and conspiracies,
of old leaky plumbing and betrayal,
of tiny rooms where people are asleep, like caterpillars
in the rainforest,
dreaming of peril and fertility.

I lie down on my lumpy duvet amid the hiss of glowing radiators,
jars of walnut oil and turmeric,
images floating across the room:
a Peruvian mask, a coral shell
necklace of light,
lies, rapture.

The windows hum with blue electricity.

My Supersonic Trip to Innsbruck

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Last Tuesday, just after I woke up to start getting ready for my trip to Innsbruck, I saw that a comment had come into my blog about something I’d posted a little over a year ago. In the post, I had used the main character’s real name instead of giving him a pseudonym, and that’s how the person who had commented found the blog. She is the daughter of the main character, and her comment that morning led to an email correspondence between us which led to me anonymizing her long-deceased father, a former mechanic and business associate of mine, giving him the pseudonym George Washington Silt, which isn’t too far off from his real name, which I was hesitent to part with I love it so much. The blog I had written about him is here.

Anyway, when I woke up that morning and saw the comment, I didn’t read it all the way through at first. I scanned it and saw this: George Washington Silt, my father… Oh, shit, I thought. I didn’t realize George had a daughter, let alone one that would find my blog a year after I’d posted it, and ten years after his death. I put my phone down before reading the comment through. I figured it was too early to read what I was expecting to read; I needed to take a shower, get some coffee in me and finish packing before facing up to the hurt I caused. So that’s what I did and forty-five minutes later, when I read the comment through, I was relieved to find that George’s daughter took the post well. She understood that nothing I had written was malicious, and even said the story made her laugh, and that George would’ve gotten a kick out of it too. Still, there were some facts I got wrong – this is why I am a writer of poetry and fiction and not facts – and she clarified those, and also made clear that her father, though not perfect, wasn’t simply insane, or a drug-addict, he was a good man with a good heart, an infectious smile, a great sense of humor, and brought warmth into many people’s lives.

I couldn’t agree with her assessment more and knew it from when I first met George, in about 1995. As I said in the other post, he was one of my first mechanics, though he never worked in my shop. He worked out of the garage at his house, and I used to go there afterhours and bring him my equipment for repair. I remember it something like this: I’d come rumbling into his driveway in my rusted-out 1984 Isuzu Pup, get a couple chainsaws or cut-off saws out the back of the truck, and knock on the garage door. The door would then slowly open, and first I’d see George’s unlaced sneakers and his pant-legs sitting on them in little bundles. Then the door would pass a hand with a cigarette burning between the fingers, and then a little portion of his belly shoving through a button-down shirt whose buttons were invariably stuck in the wrong hole – they were in the hole either above or below the one they were supposed to be in, and the shirt would be off-kilter, sliding off one shoulder. Finally, the door would glide past George’s grinning face, the sun in his eyes, his jet-black bowl-cut glittering like a forest mushroom. He’d stand there looking at me, take a long, deep drag from his cigarette and, still smirking, say something derisive and hilarious about our two scumbag competitors, Tweedle-dee and Tweedledum.

So that was the image I had of George when I read her comment about his infectious smile, etcetera, and that was the image I took with me to Austria.

The easyJet flight we took from Berlin to Salzburg lasted an hour and cost €14. The train from Salzburg to Innsbruck cost €19; this is the great thing about living in this part of Europe. For under €40 you can go to Austria, Italy, England, Spain, Denmark, the Netherlands, etc., etc. In South Florida, where I’m from, €40 MIGHT get you to The Villages, the golf cart retirement town in the center of the state where 4/5 of the residents are Trump-zealots, drunk on firearms and Viagra.

The last time I was in Salzburg was in 2013, two months after my son was born. This was a rough time for me, to say the least. I hadn’t yet even seen my son, not in person. I’d seen pictures of him. To say I wasn’t getting along with his mother would be an understatement, but I wrote all about that in Fortuna Berlin. We’ve since fixed things to the point where they’re almost perfect now and I will soon be deleting the novel, replacing it with something that I can tell you, at 45,000 words in, is going to be 100x better.

So as I was saying, I wasn’t in a good place the last time I was in Salzburg, but I didn’t let it totally ruin the trip. Going through some old notes the other day, I came coincidentally across an entry I’d written when I was there. The entry was about how I was in the Festungsbahn, a traincar that takes you up the mountain to the Hohensalzburg Fortress. I was sitting in the Festungsbahn with a bunch of drunken Austrians. They were laughing and talking loudly, but their accent was so strong (& my German so bad then) that I didn’t understand anything they were saying. All their words sounded like one impossibly long German word strung together with Origami ribbon. Finally, when they got out, the old man who was reading the newspaper next to me said something about how they were so noisy he had to read the same passage “drei mal.’ I understood that and would’ve loved to have left it at that – understanding him – but he went on talking in his strong Austrian accent, and all I could do was smile and nod, pretending I not only understood him perfectly, but that what he was saying was too humorous and absurd to offer a reply. It might not have even been funny for all I knew, but he went on, and on, and I sat there with my ironic smile, saying nothing. By then it was too late to admit his paragraphs had fallen on deaf ears, but I think he finally realized it. He offered me a cough drop. We were dead silent after that.

That was the only thing I wrote down from that trip. I was only there for a day, enough time to see the fortress, visit the house Mozart grew up in, and go to some bars and coffeehouses.

This time we only had 6 hours there. We walked around the city, visited the Salzburg Dom, one of the biggest and most majestic cathedrals I’ve ever been to, and after that ate a light lunch with beers at a dark little restaurant in the Altstadt. Then it was off to Innsbruck by rail.

If you’ve never been to Innsbruck before, I recommend it. It’s one of the prettiest towns in Europe, and it survived WWII unscathed, so the old buildings are much as they have been for centuries. We stayed at the Maximilian Hotel in the Altstadt. The hotel is named after Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor (1508-1519) and former resident. He was also the subject of a few Albrecht Dürer paintings, and I couldn’t help making a few sketches of him too when I was there. Here’s one:

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So, after checking in and getting unpacked, we walked along the River Inn, through the Altstadt, checked out the Goldenes Dachl, the Stadtturm, and stumbled upon Hotel Golden Adler (aka Best Western Plus), where the likes of Mozart, Goethe, Paganini, Heine, Albert Camus & Jean Paul Sartre all stayed. Goethe came twice. The first time was in 1786 on his way to Italy. He only stayed the afternoon and spent most of it talking to the son of the landlord, according to an entry from his Italian Journey diary. The second time was in 1791 when he stayed two nights with the Duchess Amalie of Sachsen-Weimar. On the bottom floor of the place, there’s a room called the Goethestube which, according to the literature, was once a meeting place for Tyrolean poets, painters and musicians. When I was there it was closed for renovations, along with the restaurant. Only the Best Western Plus part was functioning. I walked through the entrance and poked my head in, just long enough to see the arrangements. I didn’t want it to be said that the doors of that sacred domicile were closed to me in a way they hadn’t been to the others.

We wanted to go skiing, but with the €14 airfare, we were already reaching the top of our budget, so we decided to skip it, but not without regret. I started skiing when I was six, and sometimes I wonder what it’d would’ve been like if in my 20s I’d moved to some little mountain town and became a ski bum instead of opening up a tool rental shop.

On our first full day, we breakfasted at the hotel and then took a long walk along the river, down some random streets, and ended up at the Ambras Castle (Schloss Ambras Innsbruck), which sits in the hills overlooking the city and the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The castle, when it was first built in the 10th century, was a fortress. In the 16th century, Archduke Ferdinand II, converted it into a renaissance castle as a gift to his wife, a commoner who he’d married under conditions of secrecy, much to the disappointment of his father. There’s a little cave-like structure outside the castle called the Bacchus Grotto where Ferdinand II used to hold drinking parties where the guests were strapped to what looked like an electric chair and were not allowed out of it until they’d drained the leviathan bucket of wine set before them. Now that sounds like my kind of party. I was beginning to like this Ferdinand II. I liked him even more when I saw his collection of armories in the castle and the Chamber of Art and Wonders (Kunst- und Wunderkammer). Ferdinand II was one of history’s most prominent collectors of art, weapons, scientific and musical instruments, rarities, curiosities, natural objects and wonders of nature. Unfortunately, the Habsburger Porträtgalerie, which contains paintings by Hans Burgkmair, Lucas Cranach the Younger, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, Peter Paul Rubens, Diego Velázquez, and others is closed in the winter so we missed that. One of the best books I read last year was the Autobiography of Cellini, the 16th century Italian goldsmith and soldier. I was reminded of the book when I was looking at the collection of finely-wrought suits of armor in the castle, most of them worn by famous people of the time. “I wonder,” I said to Erica, “if Cellini had any connection to the stuff here.” I’d no sooner asked the question than I stumbled on a painting of Charles de Bourbon (1489-1527), a French military leader who in the conflict between Karl V and Pope Clemens VII de’Medici, was apparently killed by a bullet out of Cellini’s hand. He mentions the event in his autobiography.

“I pointed my arquebus toward the thickest and most closely packed part of the enemy, taking direct aim at someone I could see standing out from the rest.”

Some of the pettiest, most cowardly, self-serving, sniveling little shits I’ve ever encountered have been dabblers in the arts. The worst are the ones who do it not so much because they enjoy it, but so they can tell people they do it, to get them laid, or give themselves an identity. I’m never more suspicious than when I meet someone who calls him or herself a poet. I might admit I write poetry, but I would never call myself a poet. The name’s been hacked to bits my too many poseurs, mopes, vulgarians, chickenshits, also-rans, jellyfish & creampuffs-de-jour. Which is where Cellini comes in. He was a man’s man, hot-blooded, fiercely independent, mean as a Gila monster, but also tender and loving, honest-to-a-fault and a master of everything he touched, be it rock or gold, paints, ink, poetry, weaponry. If you’re sick of the Facebook/Instagram poetry coterie, I suggest Cellini’s Autobiography as antidote.

The next day, which was also the last day of our short trip, and Valentine’s Day, we went to the Tiroler Landesmuseum, the Dom zu St. Jakob, the Hofkirche, and ended up at a little restaurant across from the Goldenes Dachl where we ate Tyrolian specialties, drank beer and watched in amazement the only cook serving the place, a stoic, fat old man with hands quick as finches in a fruit tree that’s just beginning to blossom. The food was great, and the people were friendly. We had quite a different experience from what one recent jerkoff had posted on Trip Advisor. I was going to post just an excerpt of his diatribe, but it’s too good to delete anything. It needs to be read in whole, parsed, dissected and, if possible, immortalized in the Goethestube at the Best Western Plus.

Rude and racist staff. Wrong order and hair on food.

Look, the food wasn’t all that bad but it wasn’t the best I have had either. It is traditional Austrian cuisine but I am sure you can find the same type of food at any other city. The service was extremely appalling and staff were very rude and dismissive.

The staff had the audacity to offer us the “only” available seats for our family on the landing between two stairwells. To set the scene, when you enter into the restaurant, you arrive at a small narrow walkway which is adjacent to the open bar and kitchen. There is a small bar stool with some tables on the side for you to wait to be seated. There was no urgency for us to be seated as soon as practicable and staff did not advise the wait time to be seated at the actual restaurant on the second floor either. We took up the offer seeing as it was almost midday and we had only just arrived in Innsbruck. It was quite an awkward and out of place set up. To make matters a little more interesting to observe, many other incoming restaurant goers were offered seats up in the second level not too long after us after a very short wait time.

Now onto the food. We ordered four main dishes, alcohol and coffee. The wrong coffee order was made and it had alcohol, which was not to be consumed by a minor. When this was pointed out to the staff, they did not admit they were at fault and nor did they apologise for the error or provide a solution to the issue other than offer to “add whipped cream”?! I am sorry but adding whipped cream will not eliminate the alcohol that is present.

In addition to the wrong coffee order, we also found a piece of eyelash/eyebrow hair on our food and drinks – which in itself I am sure will speak a lot out the work health and safety environment within their kitchen.

He never elaborated on the racist accusation, but it should probably be noted that he was a white guy from Australia. Also, the eyelash/eyebrow must’ve been pretty long to span the food AND drinks.

Friday morning, we left Innsbruck on the train to Salzburg. It’s a two-hour trip, and to pass the time I’d brought along Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. Dostoyevsky has always been a great solace of mine, though I’m ashamed to say I haven’t some of his great tomes. I still haven’t gotten to The Demons or The Idiot. George Washington Silt read The Idiot. I remember talking about it with him in about 1998, shortly after he got out of the madhouse. He said the book was in the library when he was there, and he liked he liked how it was still relevant. He said it reminded him of South Florida in general, and the tool rental business in particular – everyone was screwing everyone else over. An honest man doesn’t have a chance.

I was only about 1/8 into Brothers Karamazov when I came the Schiller poem Dostoyevsky’s character Mitya quotes. He also quotes Goethe. Something about kissing the hem of the robe that God enwraps himself in. I looked out the window of the train at the lofty mountains and the landscape flying by. I thought about the marvels of modern transportation, and I thought about Goethe in 1786, in a horse-drawn carriage, passing through Innsbruck on his way to Italy. What would a Goethe be like today, in the world of high-speed trains, cryptocurrency, nuclear fission, oil drilling, bioplastic, data mining, self-reconfiguring modular robots, ultra-high-definition television, augmented reality, sneakers-with-lights-on-them, and so on, and so on? No wonder why polymaths don’t exist anymore. There are too many fields, and too much to know. But, it’s true – everything ends at the same place – with your lips on the hem that God enwraps himself in. Not that I believe in God. I don’t know what I believe in. I try not to think about it, and in meantime give the widest possible birth to the fire and brimstone crowd. Some of my least trustworthy customers when I was in the tool rental business were pastors, and I’m sure George Washington Silt would agree. He said it best. He said, “Ya gotta look out for them Holyroller types. They start talking about that God, and as soon as you look up into the sky to see what all the fuss is about – as soon as you let your guard down, that is – they’ve got your pants down at your ankles and are slippin’ you the big salami. It’s no good, I say. No good at all.”

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On Poetry, Editors & the Pushcart Award

Sketches from Berlin

I don’t trust awards, and usually just roll my eyes when someone mentions they’re a Pushcart nominee. Every poet, it seems, has been nominated for a Pushcart Award. And if they haven’t, it’s probably just because they don’t kiss enough ass, or have a poetry zine of their own to return the favor. It has almost nothing to do with the quality of the work. Merit doesn’t get you very far in the poetry world of 2019. Look in the most prestigious zines. They all have one thing in common. The poems they publish, almost without exception, are sloppy, amateurish, pure dung if I’m totally honest. What were the editors thinking, you ask. The answer? Often, it’s the poet’s name or reputation that gets him or her published. Often the editors have their own self-interest in mind. And just as often it’s that the editors, being perhaps highly intelligent, perhaps…

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On Poetry, Editors & the Pushcart Award

I don’t trust awards, and usually just roll my eyes when someone mentions they’re a Pushcart nominee. Every poet, it seems, has been nominated for a Pushcart Award. And if they haven’t, it’s probably just because they don’t kiss enough ass, or have a poetry zine of their own to return the favor. It has almost nothing to do with the quality of the work. Merit doesn’t get you very far in the poetry world of 2019. Look in the most prestigious zines. They all have one thing in common. The poems they publish, almost without exception, are sloppy, amateurish, pure dung if I’m totally honest. What were the editors thinking, you ask. The answer? Often, it’s the poet’s name or reputation that gets him or her published. Often the editors have their own self-interest in mind. And just as often it’s that the editors, being perhaps highly intelligent, perhaps masterful essayists, or journalists, or documenters of hard and concrete fact, flail as poets and as editors of poetry because the je ne sais quoi that’s required for that most unique of arts is just not in them. And most times they don’t even know it.

In a word, they’re in the wrong field.

They were supposed to be software engineers, or doctors, or historians, or math teachers. Instead they’re fumbling with dactyls and sestinas. It’s like if I were suddenly called upon to be judge of a synchronized swimming competition and imagined myself an expert, despite never having done it myself, or knowing what to look for, let alone the rules. Poetry is different from all other forms of writing in that it requires an inborn talent that can’t be taught.

In every endeavor but poetry, people with no natural gift can still succeed by diligent study of an art; but in poetry, no one who lacks the natural gift can possibly succeed through art.” ~ Vico

And yet it takes the eye of an artist to be a good judge of it, and most editors, not having that eye, can only look at grammar, punctuation, sentence construction, the broadness of vocabulary, or what they themselves are capable of to distinguish the good from the bad. So what follows is mediocrity publishing mediocrity, and the stuff that bucks the trend or goes beyond the bounds of common understanding (and not just for the sake of wackiness) being overlooked or ignored altogether.

Vico makes another wise and thought-provoking observation when he says,

The sublimest task of poetry is to attribute sense and emotion to insensate objects.

Borne out of this thought, I have to believe – given Vico’s huge influence on James Joyce – was Joyce’s famous line,

Any object, intensely regarded, may be a gate of access to the incorruptible eon of the gods.

Which is not so different from W.C. Williams’ famous and much debated line, “No ideas but in things,” or what he was getting at with his red wheelbarrow poem.

so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

In other words, so much depends on the use of objects to enforce ideas and call up vivid images in the reader’s mind. Ezra Pound invented a word for this. He called it phanopoeia, and you would think the word would be somewhere in the minds of our most esteemed and highly-paid editors, but I have my doubts, so many of the images called up in the poems published in their mags being a fuzzy and confusing jumble of pabulum.

But back to what I was saying about the Pushcart Award.

There are so many 1000s of poetry journals out there, and so many 1000s of Pushcart nominations doled out every year, usually (I imagine) to friends of the editors or people the editors hope will return the favor, that it’s hard to take too much pride in being nominated. But since I am a writer and not an editor, have no clout, and nothing to give, and am not particularly popular in social media, it feels just a little better that the editors at Red Fez – one of my favorite lit zines by the way, and a long-lasting one too – saw fit to nominate an inconsequential scrub like me for my poem about Key West. I do not expect to win the award. In fact, I know I won’t. But sometimes, I take a break from my novel and write a little poem and send it in, and it’s good to know people appreciate it.

Bone Island Elegy

The first time I visited Key West
was over thirty years ago, and I’ve been back
almost once a year ever since.

There’s something about the place
that keeps sucking me in. Something in the glow
of the bright, emerald-green
waters;
something in the salt
winds, and bleached conch
shells washed up in the sands;

and in the shadows of the coconut palms
and the dreams of the derelicts sleeping under them.

It’s a kind of mysticism,
but not without a touch of deep,
raw, almost palpable melancholy,
which is always there.

But you feel it most late at night,
after all the bars have closed,
after the music’s gone out to sea.

A faint, almost imperceptible trembling
in the silence of the island.

Something breathing,
something alive but in great pain.
Something that never sleeps because it can’t.

Its breath cuts into you.
The ocean bounds you on all sides.
The nerve opens.

Maybe it’s all those Indian bones
under the island
or a warning signal of some ancient prophesy.

Or maybe it’s just the curse of beauty.
That soft curse
that lets you know
you’ve found it,
you are someplace precarious and holy.

Bohemian Rhapsody

This began as a diary entry the other day and ended as a poem.

Bohemian Rhapsody

A thirtysomething Bulgarian-Canadian
with a hipster mustache and a mail-order Azerbaijani
bride. He’s at it again.
He’s been trying to get it right
all week. The first three or four notes of Bohemian
Rhapsody.
They come trundling down
through my ceiling, off-key, jarring,
just after midnight.

Hey Asshole. We, your neighbors,
ask for some sleep.
Not a full night’s worth. Lying awake in the dark
is no big deal – I do it all the time – but being kept up
all night
by some louse’s banal and bungling
piano antics is.

I’d rather hear anything but this.
Your dog dragging its ass up
and down the flooring, your loud and incessant footsteps,
you and your wife
fucking.

True, I’ve only heard the last
sound once, about six months ago; your Cro-Magnon
grunts bringing down the walls,
your wife silent as a corpse.
The whole thing only lasted about thirty seconds,
but brevity, as you know,
is sometimes what’s needed.

I flop around in my bed, the Bohemian Rhapsody
intro caravanning
down through the ceiling,
flat, sour,
a testament to poorly ripped-off
art everywhere;

a half hour passes, he hasn’t gotten
anywhere
but refuses to give up.

He’s gotten desperate,
you can hear it in the angry and discordant banging
of the keys.

It’s as if he’s forgotten he has neighbors,
or that it’s past midnight.

It’s as if he thinks that when
he does get the song right,
his wife,
who can only
communicate with him in the most rudimentary
pidgin
English, will see in him
something she never did before,
something beyond language, something that will finally
make him
fuckable.

***

I spent more time than I’m willing to admit on this drawing yesterday (and still didn’t get it right), but it brought me to some wonderful, nostalgic places. Pictured below is my old friend and customer Russell Wayne Mendes. I’ll never forget all the Friday nights we spent in the back of my shop drinking and carousing and playing poker. On one of those nights, Russell went into my mechanic Captain Kirk’s cluttered Winnebago and did a few lines. When he came out, I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He kept pacing around groping his chest and stomach, and lay down for a while on the hood of his F150.

“Are you alright, Russell?” I asked
“I’m fine,” he said. He spoke a little like Jack Nicholson. “Just a little gassy, that’s all. Just… gassy… Must’ve been the Wendy’s burger I had for lunch… Or something.”

I ended up going to a convenience store nearby and buying him some TUMS. His recovery was slow after that. At one point I thought I was going to have to call 911 and report a dead man on the property, but he managed to pull through and the night went according to plan…. poker, beer drinking, lots of laughs because that’s what we did best.

I eventually lost touch with Russell. He must’ve moved away from Florida around the time I did, in 2011. I looked him up recently to find out what became of him, and discovered he got killed on his motorcycle in Virginia Beach by a car going the wrong way on a one-way street. He was 57; highly intelligent, half-insane (nickname: Mad Max), brazen, vulnerable, a con artist and natural-born salesman with a beautiful gift of gab. I miss him.

“The great thing about being crazy is that we see E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G… even what’s not there.”

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Blood Test

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It’s the first Monday in January. You have been sitting for the past two
hours in a cramped little waiting room at the doctor’s office.
The people crowding about you are wheezing and sniffling, murmuring
to each other in some Arabic tongue, or just sitting there with a deadfish
look in the eyes. You are here to get a blood test.
You are reading a free downloaded copy of Goethe’s autobiography
on Kindle, though not particularly enjoying it. The text is in English,
and seems rather dry and long-winded, despite the occasional gem.
The text is much like the three Van Gogh reproductions
on the walls. They sit in cheap, dusty frames,
and seem to have lost all color, not to mention the raw electricity
originally poured into them. It’s as if nothing, not even
the most dazzling art or literature, can survive this grumbling
little hellhole. It all just withers,
withers amid the stench of corns and armpits, of hydrogen sulphide,
of cleaning agents,
withers like dead flowers and the embalmed heart
of Louis the XVII.

Florescent light gutters overhead. The strange
droning sound that’s been going on all morning
persists. Mirth here is frowned upon,
the blackbird’s song is forbidden.

A man coughs into his hand, looks at you and wipes it on his trousers.

Happy New Year from Berlin (2019)

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It had been two weeks since I’d written anything. I felt like a dead Christmas tree. One of those discarded ones lying face up in the alleyway, dreaming of the garbageman. I felt like I was disintegrating. I can’t cope without my art. I start getting depressed. The past awakens, the future terrifies. Dangerous and self-destructive musings pour into my head. I start seeing scorpions, and hyenas, and parasites, and goatfish, and poisonous snakeweeds instead of humans. Don’t do it. Don’t stand between my art and me. It’s like standing in the middle of the Yerba Buena Tunnel as a drunken oil tanker driver comes bearing down on bald tires. I say don’t do it.

Illness.

That was the cause this time. Two weeks of nasty flu, waking up with a Medieval skull crushing device on and drenched in a sea of stinking sweat. Sheets soaked, shirt sopped, bleary-eyed. I was at Erica’s parents’ house in England. And for 5 nights in a row it happened, despite her room being a veritable
meat locker. Something about the heating system. One night I saw my breath in the bathroom and my feet were blue as a pullet’s gizzard. I couldn’t pee straight
(my hand was shivering so much). I took my glass of water up the stairs, the water flying out the glass, dousing the walls, the railing, the carpets. My trembling hand
barely managing to set the glass down straight on the nightstand. I threw myself under the covers, my teeth chattering, my voice howling its agony loud enough for everyone downstairs to hear. So much for English manners. So much for Christmas.
The second one in a row I’ve been incapacitated by flu. But I made it through. And now I’m back in Berlin, feeling almost human. I drank cheap grocery store bourbon last night. And prosecco. Went on a hungover walk along the Landwehrkanal with Erica today. Read Martial (a Christmas gift), the Roman epigramist. And now writing this.
With plans for empire in 2019.

Speaking of which, I just came up with a new character for my Berlin novel. He’s a Marzahn call center employee who in a former life broke both shoulders playing loosehead prop for a bottom-of-the-barrel rugby team in Glasgow. His name: Malcolm
Rumgay.

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The Unemployable Hiram Legge

Another customer death. Hiram Legge was his name. I didn’t know him very well, he’d only come into the shop about five times, usually to rent a pressure cleaner for his mother’s house. He lived with her there. I’m not sure if he had a job. I suspected he didn’t. He was a little old drunk with a red nose. I pictured him drinking at night with his mother, doing all the manly chores around the house and living off her social security. One of his chores was of course pressure washing. Another was murdering possums. He went to jail for it in 2007. The article about it is still online. What happened was there was a trash bin somewhere between his house and city hall. A possum had somehow got into the trash bin and Hiram Legge stood over it looking in, armed with a stun gun and a shovel. He plunged the shovel into the bin a few times trying to kill the possum. It was still alive when a lady from Animal Control pulled up. She lowered her window, asked him what he was doing.  “Oh, it’s just a possum,” he said, looking at her with the most deadpan expression imaginable. “I’ve already killed 21 or 22 back at the house. This one’s a little more wily. I’ve tried tasing it, drowning it. Nothing seems to work.” And with that, he plunged the shovel into the bin a few more times as if it was totally normal to do that on Tuesday morning across from city hall just after an animal control officer asked you what you were doing. She told him to stop. She then called the police and he was arrested for animal cruelty, a charge he no doubt thought was bullshit. “It was a damn possum,” he probably said to himself. “A possum is a wild animal. What did I do wrong? I was raised to believe possums were inferior to man. They have no souls. My mom told me so and she’s a Christian.”

Unfortunately, the possum didn’t survive. According to the article in the Palm Beach Post, authorities gave it a proper burial. Hiram, on the other hand, who died on April 30th of this year at age 66, was cremated at Scobee-Combs-Bowden Funeral Home & Crematory in Boynton Beach. I don’t know what happened to his ashes. I guess his mother got them, if she was still alive. If not, they probably went unclaimed and are sitting in a ziplock bag in a musty storage room somewhere. I don’t think he had any other family.

As for his soul, I imagine it went to Possum Hell, where it lives for all eternity in a garbage bin with a big, dumb, violent possum standing guard over it, armed with a shovel and a stun gun and a bucket of water for whenever drowning is necessary.

Hiram Legge was a Trump supporter, if that means anything. The last time I saw him he was standing on the side of the road wearing a MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN hat.

Here is a sketch I did of him. I copied it from a 2010 mugshot when he was arrested for driving with a suspended license (first offence, with knowledge). It was probably his mother’s car.

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