charles m. blow | don’t mess with big bird

11 10 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  No. 219 (& Poetry Dispatch) | October 11, 2012

Charles M. Blow

Mitt Romney’s Big Bird swipe during Wednesday’s debate raised some hack­les: PBS’s, many on social media and mine.

Romney told the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer:
“I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actu­ally like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

Those are fighting words.

Social media, and others, exploded in Big Bird’s defense.

PBS itself issued a tersely worded statement on Thursday, saying:
“Governor Romney does not under­stand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation. We think it is important to set the record straight and let the facts speak for themselves.”

Exactly! What they said!

Big Bird is the man. He’s 8 feet tall. He can sing and roller skate and ride a uni-cycle and dance. Can you do that, Mr. Romney? I’m not talking about your fox trot away from the facts. I’m talking about real dancing.

Since 1969, Big Bird has been the king of the block on “Sesame Street.” When I was a child, he and his friends taught me the alphabet and the colors and how to do simple math.

Do you know how to do simple math, Mr. Romney? Maybe you and the Count­ess Von Backward could exchange num­bers.
Big Bird and his friends also showed me what it meant to resolve conflicts with kindness and accept people’s differ­ences and look out for the less fortunate.

Do you know anything about looking ou for the less fortunate, Mr. Romney? 0 do you think they’re all grouches scrounging around in trash cans?

I know that you told Fox News this week that you were “completely wrong’ for making that noninfamous 47 percent comment, but probably only after you realized that it was a drag on your poll numbers. Your initial response was to defend it as “inelegantly stated” but es­sentially correct. That’s not good, sir. Character matters. Big Bird wouldn’t have played it that way. Do you really believe that Pennsylvania Avenue is that far away from Sesame Street? It shouldn’t be.

Let me make it simple for you, Mr. Romney. I’m down with Big Bird. You pick on him, you answer to me.

And, for me, it’s bigger than Big Bird. It’s almost impossible to overstate how instrumental PBS has been in my devel­opment and instruction.

We were poor. My mother couldn’t af­ford day care, and I didn’t go to pre­school. My great-uncle took care of me all day. I could watch one hour of televi­sion: PBS.

When I was preparing for college and took the ACT, there were harder reading passages toward the back of the test. Many had scientific themes — themes we hadn’t covered at my tiny high school in my rural town. But I could fol­low the passages’ meanings because I had watched innumerable nature shows on PBS.

I never went to art or design school. In college, I was an English major be­fore switching to mass communications. Still, I went on to become the design di­rector of The New York Times and the art director of National Geographic magazine.

That was, in part, because I had a nat­ural gift for it (thanks mom and dad and whatever gods there may be), but it’s also because I spent endless hours watching art programs on PBS. (Bob Ross, with his awesome Afro, snow­capped mountains and “magic white,” will live on forever in my memory.)

I don’t really expect Mitt Romney to understand the value of something like PBS to people, like me, who grew up in poor, rural areas and went to small schools. These are places with no mu­seums or preschools or after-school edu­cational programs. There wasn’t money for travel or to pay tutors.

I honestly don’t know where I would be in the world without PBS.

As PBS pointed out:
“Over the course of a year, 91 percent of all U.S. television households tune in to their local PBS station. In fact, our service is watched by 81 percent of all children between the ages of 2-8. Each day, the American public receives an en­during and daily return on investment that is heard, seen, read and experi­enced in public media broadcasts, apps, podcasts and online — all for the cost of about$1.35 per person per year.”

PBS is a national treasure, and is Big Bird is our golden — um, whatever kind of bird he is.
Hands off!

[from The New York Times, 10.6.12]

marge piercy | my mother’s body

5 10 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No.383 | October 5, 2012


Editor’s Note: We must remember to revisit our own bookshelves more frequently for lost books, lost authors, writers who once made a difference in our lives even though we’ve moved on to other places these days, other interests, other ideas, and the stories and poems and books which once spoke to us have been gathering dust for years. I find myself late at night searching for something among all my poetry titles—and find something else instead. An old friend. Hmmmmmm…Marge Piercy…where have you been, love?…it’s been such a long, long time…

Hmmmm, this is exactly the kind of poetry I had in mind…something I knew I had somewhere on my shelves. Exactly what the doctor would prescribe for a writing-friend to take to heart, mind, art…in a time of need.

Thumbing through the pages, rereading poems here and there, I recall putting this book in any number of hands: students, poets/writers who have never read it. Poets who are blocked, readers who just love to read poetry. Poets who are not quite beginners but new writers who have all the tools already at their disposal (perhaps born with them) yet are not sure what they should be making of everything. (For beginning poets…my preference would be ‘concrete’ imagery alone…haiku. Begin there.)

What Marge Piercy brings to the table in MY MOTHER’S BODY is an honest simplicity of language, such an everydayness of narrative welcoming one-and-all, layering, spreading into a poetry of resonance both recognizable and profound in the mystery of afterthought. It’s all so good, so satisfying, you want to read it again immediately, to taste it twice, to re-live the narrative, to allow the poem to inhabit you till you see everything so clearly, so differently.

This is the kind of poetry that works best. The skill, the workmanship, the artistry is there…yet the poet isn’t addressing the reader in a second language, as too many poets do these days. Nor does the poet speak down leaving you with chunks of prose, nothing that glows with an inner light.

So I take this book off the shelf, prepare to put it in my briefcase to either mail or hand to a friend tomorrow. But then, with books like these that I’ve rediscovered, poems like these that re-energize my faith in the written word once again—I just can’t part with it. I even catch myself entertaining the notion of not revealing my love for this book to anyone, let alone pass it on one to someone who needs it at the moment much more than I. It’s mine. I will never let it go. Who knows when I may need it again?

Instead I go to the computer…go to the internet…check the book dealers…find a good, affordable used copy…and send it to a friend who needs it. — Norbert Blei

The Listmaker

I am a compiler of lists: 1 bag
fine cracked corn, 1 sunflower seeds.

Thin tomato seedlings in hotbed;
check dahlias for sprouting.

Write Kathy. Call Lou. Pay
oil bill. Decide about Montana.

I find withered lists in pockets
of raincoats, reminders to buy birthday

presents for lovers who wear those warm
sweaters now in other lives. And what

did I decide about Montana? To believe
or disbelieve in its existence?

To rise at five some morning and fly there?
A buried assent or denial rots beneath.

I confess too that sometimes when I am listing
what I must do on a Monday, I will put on

tasks already completed for the neat pleasure
of striking them out, checking them off.

What do these lists mean? That I mistrust my memory,
that my attention, a huge hungry crow

settling to carrion even on the highway
hates to rise and flap off, wants to continue

feasting on what it has let down upon
folding the tent of its broad dusty wings.

That I like to conquer chaos one square
at a time like a board game.

That I fear the sins of omission more
than commission. That the whining saw

of the mill of time shrieks always in my ears
as I am borne with all the other logs

forward to be dismantled and rebuilt
into chairs, into frogs, into running water.

All lists start where they halt, in intention.
Only the love that is work completes them.

Peaches in November

On the peach’s wide sieve of branches
the buds crouch already in whitish caterpillar fur.

All winter they must hold tight, as the supple
limbs are strained wide by the snow’s weight,

as the ice coats them and turns them to glinting
small lights that splinter the sun to prickles.

Must hold tight against the wet warm tongue
of the thaw that lolls off the Gulf Stream

smelling of seaweed and the South, as if
not spring visited but summer in January.

Hold tight against the early March sun
with the wild tulips already opening

against the brown earth like painted mouths
when the ice will return as a thief

to take what has too widely trusted.
The news they carry can only be told once

to the bees each year. The bud is the idea
of sweetness, of savor, of round heft

waiting to build itself. As the winter
clamps down they hibernate in fur,

little polar bears on red twigs
dreaming of turning one sun into many.

Six Underrated Pleasures

1. Folding sheets

They must be clean.
There ought to be two of you
to talk as you work, your
eyes and hands meeting.
They can be crisp, a little rough
and fragrant from the line;
or hot from the dryer
as from an oven. A silver
grey kitten with amber
eyes to dart among
the sheets and wrestle and leap out
helps. But mostly pleasure
lies in the clean linen
slapping into shape.
Whenever I fold a fitted sheet
making the moves that are like
closing doors, I feel my mother.
The smell of clean laundry is hers.

2. Picking pole beans

Gathering tomatoes has no art
to it. Their ripe redness shouts.
But the scarlet runner beans twine
high and jungly on their tripods.
You must reach in delicately,
pinch off the sizable beans
but leave the babies to swell
into flavor. It is hide-and-seek,
standing knee deep in squash
plants running, while the bees
must be carefully disentangled
from your hair. Early you may see
the hummingbird, but best to wait
until the dew burns off.
Basket on your arm, your fingers
go swimming through the raspy leaves
to find prey just their size.
Then comes the minor zest
of nipping the ends off with your nails
and snapping them in pieces,
their retorts like soft pistolry.
Then eat the littlest raw.

3. Taking a hot bath

Surely nobody has ever decided
to go on a diet while in a tub.
The body is beautiful stretched
out under water wavering.

It suggests a long island of pleasure
whole seascapes of calm sensual
response, the nerves as gentle fronds
of waterweed swaying in warm currents.

Then if ever we must love ourselves i
n the amniotic fluid floating
a ship at anchor in a perfect
protected blood-warm tropical bay.

The water enters us and the minor
pains depart, supplanted guests,
the aches, the strains, the chills.
Muscles open like hungry clams.

Born again from my bath like a hot
sweet-tempered, sweet-smelling baby,
I am ready to seize sleep like a milky breast
or start climbing my day hand over hand.

4. Sleeping with cats

I am at once source
and sink of heat: giver
and taker. I am a vast
soft mountain of slow breathing.
The smells I exude soothe them:
the lingering odor of sex,
of soap, even of perfume,
its afteraroma sunk into skin
mingling with sweat and the traces
of food and drink.

They are curled into flowers
of fur, they are coiled
hot seashells of flesh
in my armpit, around my head
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

5. Planting bulbs

No task could be easier.
Just dig the narrow hole,
drop in the handful of bone
meal and place the bulb
like a swollen brown garlic
clove full of hidden resources.

Their skin is the paper
of brown bags. The smooth
pale flesh peeks through.
Three times its height
is its depth, a parable
against hard straining.

The art is imagining
the spring landscape poking
through chrysanthemum, falling
leaves, withered brown lushness
of summer. The lines drawn
now, the colors mixed

will pop out of the soil
after the snow sinks from sight
into it. The circles,
the casual grace of tossed handfuls,
the soldierly rows will stand,
the colors sing sweet or sour.

When the first sharp ears
poke out, you are again
more audience than actor,
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

6. Canning

We pour a mild drink each,
turn on the record player,
Beethoven perhaps or Vivaldi,
opera sometimes, and then together
in the steamy kitchen we put up
tomatoes, peaches, grapes, pears.

Each fruit has a different
ritual: popping the grapes
out of the skins like little
eyeballs, slipping the fuzz
from the peaches and seeing
the blush painted on the flesh beneath.

It is part game: What shall
we magic wand this into?
Peach conserve, chutney, jam,
brandied peaches. Tomatoes
turn juice, sauce hot or mild
or spicy, canned, ketchup.

Vinegars, brandies, treats
for the winter: pleasure
deferred. Canning is thrift
itself in sensual form,
surplus made beautiful, light
and heat caught in a jar.

I find my mother sometimes
issuing from the steam, aproned,
red faced, her hair up in a net.
Since her death we meet usually
in garden or kitchen. Ghosts
come reliably to savors, I learn.

In the garden your ashes,
in the kitchen your knowledge.
Little enough we can save
from the furnace of the sun
while the bones grow brittle as paper
and the hair itself turns ashen.

But what we can put by, we do
with gaiety and invention
while the music laps round us
like dancing light, but Mother,
this pleasure is only deferred.
We eat it all before it spoils.

[from MY MOTHER’S BODY, Poems by Marge Piercy, Pandora Press, 1985]

george wamser | wrestling with timber wolves…

28 09 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  # 218 (& Poetry Dispatch) | September 27, 2012


Editor’s Note: George Wamser is a full-time blue collar worker and a ‘part-time’ writer, with a true hunter’s heart and mind, given the gift of the natural world that surround us. I first ‘discovered’ him about five years ago and invited him to submit a piece of writing for an anthology of unpublished writers I was putting together (OTHER VOICES, Works in Progress, Cross+Roads Press, 2007). George submitted a beautiful essay: “Tales from Good Medicine Lodge” wherein he says: “…the forest…the forest…has remained faithful all along, has remained my salvation, my healer, and has accepted my words of gratitude…Every time I returned to it, it is as if I have re-entered the echo of my own wonderful dream.”

Part of his bio on the “Notes on Contributors” page also states: “….that he has no particular qualification to write anything for anybody, and that he is simply a blue collar worker, a printer by trade, who is extremely interested in nature, and human nature. He is keenly aware of the great environmental changes going on in the North Country over the last forty years, and is extremely concerned about how much of the resources will remain for future generations.

George lives in Oconto, Wisconsin with his Native American wife, where they built their own cabin, The Good Medicine Lodge, on Sunrise Lake 25 years ago.

Here in Wisconsin, the battle for wilderness preservation is fought every day. (Hunters of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but…?) Some folks find a reason to kill whatever moves in nature. Here is George’s measured take on a current controversy of killing wolves. — Norbert Blei

Wrestling with Timber Wolves…

What is the myth… and what is the reality?

Which side of the line are YOU on? On the side of wilderness… or on the side of special interest groups that wish to micro-manage every single tiny bit of nature for its own selfish end? Because that’s what it all boils down to here, with the proposed wolf hunt. We are talking a population of 850 animals in an environment that is OVER 2 MILLION ACRES…think about that population density of wolves and you get the picture. This has nothing to do with damage caused by wolves, or even competition with hunters for game, this is all about a “state of mind” and the ancient penchant certain human cultures have; the irresistible urge to mess with and try to arrogantly dominate all things in nature, wild and free, and nothing more. Nothing symbolizes wilderness more than the timber wolf, which makes him the logical target for the enormous human ego. There is nothing logical or rational about such a hunt, in fact, as anyone who studies, or tries to photograph timber wolves for less nefarious purposes will tell you, is that even finding a wolf for a photo is maddeningly difficult, even with bait! And may require months of patient stake outs in blinds with little guarantee of success; so good luck “hunters”! Ha! Sadly, the clever trappers may do better…

Am I worried about some livestock taken? Or a few hunting dogs killed by wolves? Nope. Why? Because that is the REAL law of true wilderness, that, you take the chances of such predation when you CHOOSE to live in, or run your pack of hunting dogs in a wilderness area; which operates on its own terms, in fact, such predation is the golden badge of success in preservation of wilderness. It is the sign that things are working as they should in a northern forest left alone to do its proper thing. ANY outdoor organization who is in favor of a wolf hunt has forgotten this fundamental ideal, that so many great defenders of the wild like Ed Abby and Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olsen fought for, and whose philosophy I still adhere to.

IF there were HUGE numbers of wolves, like coyotes, running all over the place, moving into urban areas causing all sorts of conflicts, I would have no problem with a trapping season, eliminating the problem animals in hot areas, but this is not the case…bears exist in a widespread population of many thousands and are a much smarter and more effective predator on game animals and hunting dogs than the timber wolf, but we live with them, perhaps even underhunting them for their population density. Bears do not carry the same negative emotional perception as wolves do, therefore even though bears are many times more “competitive” with humans than wolves, with a much larger population of over 20,000, they are not seen as a similar “threat”. Imagine a “hunting season” to reduce in number a population of 850 of anything…much less wolves in an area the size of all of northern Wisconsin…it is idiotic in its scope.

There may be a day when a wolf hunting season is needed, and I am NOT against it in principle; but not now. Not yet…

Wolves, like all predators, are beneficial in the ecological picture of the North Country. They kill and eat the sick and weak of the game animals, and may help eliminate deer ill with CWD, “processing” the diseased tissue through their bodies so other deer cannot access it. Mostly timber wolves are omnivorous, and eat anything that is available to them including certain plants, small mammals and even fish on occasion. Over 50% of their diet is made up of non-game animals. Predators of all types have an extremely positive effect in “balance” and these effects run through the entire ecosystem.

This beautiful predator-prey relationship, (add into this common diseases in canines such as mange) ancient way beyond historical time, is itself a natural control on the population of these animals as they are dependent upon one another…and yes, I have a history with timber wolves, and am biased towards them as a species. I worked for timber wolf recovery in Wisconsin for ten years in the late 80’s and nineties; I have studied the scientific research and the myth and historical materials, and have observed them in the field in Minnesota, which was both beautiful and thrilling. Perhaps no animal on this planet, among a family of large predator fauna such as grizzlies, polar bears, tigers, snakes and a few others is more misunderstood, feared and reviled for no scientific reason whatsoever; it is always emotional. The scientists… are not in favor of a hunt at this time. This will sound extremely radical to many of you, but in this time of Earth’s natural history, with the largest mass extinction of species since the Pliocene, experiencing a wolf up close and personal, observing, hearing their lonely call, and odd as it sounds, even in the rare instance of suffering some loss of livestock, pet or hunting dog to a wolf or another predator, is a privilege…and this spring as I heard my first single beautiful wolf call from my back door at Sunrise Lake, my joy was tempered by the knowledge that soon, people will likely be out to kill that fellow. Aldo Leopold, God’s gift to Wisconsin and the source of modern Game Management, literally writing the first textbook on the subject, started out as a “wolf killer” with a strong belief in the control and elimination of predators, but as he was a good scientist, came to the conclusion over a decade of research, from the evidence, that he had been dead wrong, and that the science backed not only the value of all predators in the total ecological picture, but also of their utter necessity. Aldo changed…through the diminishment of his ignorance of the scientific facts, overcoming his emotions, cultural biases and an official government program to eliminate predators, to a much more factual, enlightened view that counterintuitive, and went against nearly everything he was taught to believe, but was; right.

As I thought about this subject my intellect and emotions ran all over the place…to the science of game management, to the beautiful sort of simmering anger and frustration someone like Edward Abby could cleverly express in defense of the wild and play it to the public like an irritating French Horn, to the artsy satire, ridiculous, like Tom Robbins portrayed in his “Wrestling with Woodpeckers” novel, and to the utter sacredness the traditional Native Americans hold the wolf: Muwase…in the highest possible regard, just as sincerely as Christians hold Jesus Christ. Nothing is sacred anymore, not even the concept of things being truly wild, which in my view may exhibit the highest possible expression of a creator. Wilderness in and of itself is sacred enough for me. While the powerful hunting organizations pay lip service to “wilderness” they back a wolf hunt and seem to have a secret need to tame anything truly wild; meanwhile lobbying for artificially high populations of game animals and fish to satisfy the sport recreational market, rather than the healthy holding capacity of the ecosystem.

It makes us all sad when we think of the wondrous progress the human race is capable of, and then, we contrast the steps forward with the “two steps back” rut that we seem to be stuck in over and over again, dampening the accomplishments we make. We never seem to learn, as over the last century the heart of hard lessons about ecology and game management evolved around “balance” and a holistic approach to habitats which benefitted the ecosystem as a whole, which is why the major predators were allowed back to begin with. Again and again, the public thinks we can do better, and expects more from public education, an enlightened media, hunting organizations, and the recreational industry to help show us the way…but I’ll tell you, all of the above are capable of sending out bad, outdated, self centered messages as well as good ones, and they have both the money and political pressure to apply where needed to insure their agenda is on the table, regardless of whether it is good for the ecosystem or not. This is nothing new, as there are struggles over proper use of ATV’s, mining, wetland use, clean water issues, logging, oil leases and endangered species that never seem to go away.

There are just as many scientists working diligently in labs all over America finding new and imaginative ways to exploit the environment, as there are working to find ways to protect and preserve it. There are more forces as work today trying to manipulate the environment, spending money and wresting for political control over resources now, than ever, with great media outlets telling only their side of the story, and we wonder why…we are so confused as to what is progress and what is destructive. If you watch the ads on TV from BP about the Gulf oil spill they make it seem like BP was the best thing that ever happened to the region! We try like hell to subdue nature, when in reality our greatest failure is in simply conquering ourselves. Isn’t it sad, that some of our greatest scientific discoveries in ecology do not seem to carry clear instructions on how to use them ethically? Ecology is a science that does not clearly state the facts with a “good or bad” label on them, and the simple scientific “facts” the nuts and bolts of the reality, are left for interpretation by the public as a relative consequence of our economy, our population growth and so much more. And to the vast majority of the public, the life of a single wolf, an elk, a whole wetland ecosystem, or even the quality of my relationship with wolves here in the Nicolet National Forest and where it all fits in to the total picture; is completely meaningless.

IF some real meaning were endowed upon subjects regarding the environment, to the people, to the actions and potential emotion the public is capable of, if they can come to relate to the value of wild things like timber wolves, then and only then will the great power of human forces to protect and preserve be unleashed. We must learn to frankly admit that we as a people are failing now, in an era, where we are more concerned about the I-phone in our hand than the disappearance of whippoorwills, consuming the present at such a rate as to leave the future more impoverished for our grandchildren. Admitting ignorance here; opens the possibility for new directions in conservation, of new creative thinking, of a greater sense of ethics; altruism in regards to the climate, lands and waters, and ultimately even how we value our own existence as a member of an ever diminishing community within nature.

Yes, it is diminishing…

Finally, when Wisconsin was wild, it was one huge Garden of Eden underneath a canopy of massive white, yellow and red pines 200 feet tall, born before the landing of Columbus “the pinery” as it was called by the first settlers in the north, and wherever a chickadee might fly within this mighty virgin forest, along the sacred Wolf River, over the Oconto “river of many fish” over the hundreds of crystal clear lakes and deep green valleys, over the remnants of mountains once as big as the Rockies now ground down and glaciated to thousand foot hills, deep leafy deciduous glens and scrub oaks along the “Ouisconsin” limestone dells and Mississippi River through every type of ecosystem, micro climates such as along the Great Lakes or Green Bay, down from “the Spirit’s Door” south to tall grass prairies, and coulee country of the south west, over the great central bog-land, wildlife and plant life prospered in lavish abundance…nature gave and gave and gave when the humans arrived, but no adequate compensation was ever offered for this incredible unfathomable blessing we have received over centuries, and now, when nature asks for a few free Timberwolves…how do we respond?

Shame on us…


sharon olds | stag’s leap

24 09 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No. 382 | September 24, 2012


Editor’s Note: I’m a long-time reader of Sharon Olds’ poetry, which almost always says the right thing. Things I need to fear, feel, sense on many levels. Her poems deal a lot with family, childhood, marriage, love, death. The ‘big stuff’ set down in telling words, (the old ‘ordinary’—but ‘extraordinary’) lines, stanzas that often shine in their own light.

One of her early poems on ‘grandma’ begins with the line: “Late in her life, when we fell in love,/I’d take her out from the nursing home/for a chaser and two bourbons.” What could be more ‘ordinary’ ? Variations, too, on the theme of love/sex also find a home in the soundness of her words with a passion simmering just beneath her lines: “How do they do it, the ones who make love/without love?…”

I don’t have a complete shelf of her work, but I remain especially fond of THE FATHER, (which I read often), THE DEAD AND THE LIVING, and THE GOLD CELL.

Her new book, STAG’S LEAP goes back to her well-honed theme of love/sex, with a particular emphasis on husband and wife. A marriage “gone South” shall we say, after thirty plus years. Heartbreak city–at least for her who is left what all the remains… something it takes a whole book of leaping poems to get over, though it never quite does—not the way she sorts it out, sees it, feels it, turns it over in her heart in words. “Memorable” doesn’t quite say it.

I have problems sometimes with poets as successful as Sharon Olds: San Francisco Poetry Center Award, Lamont Poetry Selection for 1983, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award…poets, in their prime, making all the right moves, the right poems…till “the light” of national attention shines down upon them so brilliantly that slowly but surely too many of them become “Poets”, so blinded by the light and they lose sight of how they used to say it so clearly in the beginning…and suddenly start stretching things a bit much…tossing in foreign phrases, words that may sound wonderful to their ears, but fall upon the readers like clunkers. There’s a bit too much of this going on in some of these poems:

“tressed with spinneret sludge, speckled with/flue-mash flecks, or the morse of a species—/” from “On the Hearth of the Broken Home”. Or…

“…His harpoon—a Beothuc harpoon—” Sorry…I come to something like this and the poem stops me in its tracks(lines) and I find myself turning the page, even worse, closing the book.

There’s more, but I’m going to end right here because I DO like this book. I do love most of the poems. I DO highly recommend it—for…women (and men) who have been left by ‘the other’…for those contemplating separation, divorce after a long or short marriage. For those left to live with the remains. This is NOT a self-help book of poems about dealing with abandonment but more like a journey, a meditation on rising to another level…love after love…which few approach, given the burden of memory. — Norbert Blei


The last time we slept together—
and then I can’t remember when
it was, I used to be a clock
of sleeping together, and now it drifts,
in me, somewhere, the knowledge, in one of those
washes on maps of deserts, those spacious
wastes—the last time, he paused,
at some rest stop, some interval
between the unrollings, he put his palm
on my back, between the shoulder blades.
It was as if he were suing for peace,
asking if this could be over—maybe not
just this time, but over. He was solid
within me, suing for peace. And I
subsided, but then my bright tail
lolloped again, and I whispered, Just one
more?, and his indulgent grunt
seemed, to me, to have pleasure, and even
affection, in it—and my life, as it
was incorporated in flesh, was burst with the
sweet smashes again. And then
we lay and looked at each other—or I looked
at him, into his eyes. Maybe that
was the last time—not knowing
it was last, not solemn, yet that signal given,
that hand laid down on my back, not a gauntlet
but a formal petition for reprieve, a sign for Grant Mercy.

Poem for the Breasts

Like other identical twins, they can be
better told apart in adulthood.
One is fast to wrinkle her brow,
her brain, her quick intelligence. The other
dreams inside a constellation,
freckles of Orion. They were born when I was thirteen,
they rose up, half out of my chest,
now they’re forty, wise, generous.
I am inside them—in a way, under them,
or I carry them, I’d been alive so many years without them.
I can’t say I am them, though their feelings are almost
my feelings, as with someone one loves. They seem,
to me, like a gift that I have to give.
That boys were said to worship their category of
being, almost starve for it,
did not escape me, and some young men
loved them the way one would want, oneself, to be loved.
All year they have been calling to my departed husband,
singing to him, like a pair of soaking
sirens on a scaled rock.
They can’t believe he’s left them, it’s not in their
vocabulary, they being made
of promise—they’re like literally kept vows.
Sometimes, now, I hold them a moment,
one in each hand, twin widows,
heavy with grief. They were a gift to me,
and then they were ours, like thirsty nurslings
of excitement and plenty. And now it’s the same
season again, the very week
he moved out. Didn’t he whisper to them,
Wait here for me one year? No.
He said, God be with you, God
by with you, God-bye, for the rest
of this life and for the long nothing. And they do not
know language, they are waiting for him, my
Christ they are dumb, they do not even
know they are mortal—sweet, I guess,
refreshing to live with, being without
the knowledge of death, creatures of ignorant suffering.

Running into You

Seeing you again, after so long,
seeing you with her, and actually almost
not wanting you back,
doesn’t seem to make me feel separate from you. But you seemed
covered with her, like a child working with glue
who’s young to be working with glue. “If I could
choose, a place to die,”
it would never have been in your arms, old darling,
we figured I’d see you out, in mine,
it was never in doubt that you had suffered more than I
when young. That moved me so much about you,
the way you were a dumbstruck one
and yet you seemed to know everything
I did not know, which was everything
except the gift of gab—and oh well
dirty dancing and how to apologize.
When I went up to you two, at the art opening,
I felt I had nothing to apologize for,
I felt like a somewhat buoyant creature
with feet of I don’t know what, recovered-from sorrow,
which held me nicely to the gallery floor as to the
surface of a planet, some lunar orb
once part of the earth.

Years Later

At first glance, there on the bench
where he’d agreed to meet, it didn’t seem to be
him—but then the face of grim
friendliness was my former husband’s,
like the face of a creature looking out
from inside its Knox. No fault, no knock,
clever nut of the hearing aid
hidden in the ear I do not feel I
love anymore, small bandage on the cheek
peopled with tiny lichen from a land I don’t
know. We walk. I had not remembered
how deep he held himself inside
himself—my fun, for thirty-two years,
to lure him out. I still kind of want to,
as if I see him as a being with a baby-paw
caught. His voice is the same—low,
still pushed around the level-bubble
in his throat. We talk of the kids, and it’s
as if that will never be taken from us.
But it feels as if he’s not here—
though he’s here, it feels as if, for me,
there’s no one there—as when he was with me
it seemed there was no one there for any other
woman. For the first thirty years. Now I see
I’ve been hoping, each time we meet, that he would praise me
for how well I took it, but it’s not to be.
Are you happy as you thought you’d be,
I ask. Yes. And his smile is touchingly
pleased. I thought you’d look happier,
I say, but after all, when I am
looking at you, you’re with me! We smile.
His eyes warm, a moment, with the accustomed
shift, as if he’s turning into
the species he was for those thirty years.
And turning back. I glance toward his torso
once, his legs—he’s like a stick figure,
now, the way, when I was with him, other
men seemed like Ken dolls, all clothes. Even
the gleam of his fresh wedding ring is no
blade to my rib—this is Married Ken. As I
walk him toward his street I joke, and for an instant
he’s alive toward me, a gem of sea of
pond in his eye. Then that retreat into himself,
which always moved me, as if there were
a sideways gravity, in him, toward some
vanishing point. And no, he does not
want to meet again, in a year—when we
part, it is with a dry bow
and Good-bye. And then there is the spring park,
damp as if freshly peeled, sweet
greenhouse, green cemetery with no
dead in it—except, in some shaded
woods, under some years of leaves and
rotted cones, the body of a warbler
like a whole note fallen from the sky—my old
love for him, like a songbird’s rib cage picked clean.

[from STAG’S LEAP, Knopf, 2012, $16.95]

jeff winke | frank the zombie

13 09 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  No. 217 (& Poetry Dispatch) | September 13, 2012

JEFF WINKE: “Frank the Zombie”

Norbert Blei

Haiku and haibun master, Jeff Winke has gone to the dark side a bit and penned his first children’s book: FRANK THE ZOMBIE, A Tale of Woe That End with a Smile (Mirror Publishing-Milwaukee, WI… just in time for the Halloween season, (though zombies are always in season) beautifully illustrated by Carlos Lemos as far as zombies, beautiful in their own way, walk their zombie walk with an insatiable appetite for human nature.

In an uncharacteristically un-haiku-like style, but stylist that he is, Winke has nailed his zombie kid story with a masterful use of single syllable words (but for “zombie”) that tell the tale of Frank’s zombieness and his mission in life beyond the grave:

“I woke one day deep in the ground and dug my way to the top, and woe is me…this is who I am now. Will you be my friend?”

Given the relentless craze these days for the ‘literature’ of vampirism (thanks to the New York book industry that knows just how to manufacture and manipulate what passes for American literary culture)…leave it to our own Wisconsin boy, Jeff Winke, to turn it up a notch, beat them to the punch and introduce zombies for kids–with the sleight of hand, sympathy and a smile.

Not, WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE, etc. No. This is an updated, user-friendly kid’s tale and picture book version of those challenging classic childhood fears: the bogeyman…a noise in the closet…someone under the bed…alone in the dark…

You’re gonna/they’re gonna love Frank and want him for a friend.

As the back cover states:
Parental Warning: Frank the Zombie is a fictional character. Real zombies are dangerous and should not be approached.

About $9.99 will get you the book. Contact the publisher or Jeff personally: or

ronald baatz | devouring birds

31 08 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No. 381 | August 31, 2012


Editor’s Note: Access, accountability, attention… What is it about those writers who speak to us and those to whom we turn a deaf ear…because those who speak to us are what they write, are what we need to know (more) about ourselves? Only they open that door. Invite us immediately into their home, their heart, their life.

Paging through another new book by Ronald Baatz, I come across:

“I cannot read Williams tonight, but I can read Para.” I’m hooked immediately, knowing Williams, knowing Para…wondering where the hell is Baatz going with that line? With Para in particular? “Williams seems like a stranger while Para is like/a friend who has come to drink and spend the night.” Well, you gotta love that. … “But tonight I want to listen to Parra talk about being an old man./… “Should an old man living alone/have a dog?/Should the dog be old also? Would it be better if/the dog were to die first?…”

This is his BIG book (maybe Baatz’s biggest). 155 pages, New and Selected Poems. On the upper left-hand corner of very last page sits a tiny, untitled, final poem all by itself:

Orange peels-
the shadows of them
as I remember
the shadows of them
curling in childhood.

“curling” …brilliant. No poem without it.

Welcome (back) to Baatz’s world. A world of curling orange peels, of parents shuffling into the surrealism of age (the poet but a few steps behind)…of loneliness, birds, dogs, sheep, friends, world famous writers, artists, musicians who sustain a poet’s own words, women who come and go like Michelangelo…

Oh, hell. Open the door yourself. I’m still stuck in Baatz’s desert where I always thought I would find myself at the very end. – Norbert Blei


I cannot live here when I am old.
It is too cold for many months out of the year.
As it is, I am having a rough time dealing with
the cold now. When I am old I want to live
in the desert. I suppose this is a common goal
for people who live in the cold. Although, thankfully,
this past winter was a blessing, so unbelievably mild was it.
The morning newspaper explains why
there is such an abundance of yellowjackets.
I was stung recently. I was sitting on the green lawn chair
at the back of the house, minding my own business, reading,
when suddenly I felt an itch on my leg. As I scratched this itch,
one of these yellowjackets let me have it. It had managed to crawl
up my leg, underneath my pants. After stinging me
it fell to the ground and walked away; for some reason not flying,
perhaps too exhausted from having stung me.
My first instinct was to kill it; instead I just moved away from it.
I will leave these heavenly purple mountains to the bugs and the bears
and whatever else wants to claim them as their own.
I do not want to be exposed to such cold when I am old.
I want to bake in the sun. I want to be like a dried fig.
If I had money, then living here would not be such a hardship.
I’d be able to defend myself from the cold with money.
But there is none, and there appears to be nothing I can do
to rectify this problem. I live where the winters are harsh and
I have no way of keeping myself warm. I am profoundly disappointed
in myself. I will not even have the money necessary to move
to the desert when the time comes. So why do I even talk about it,
dream about it. I have been pathetic at creating a decent income.
I will die in this lousy cold. I can see it all now: when I die
others will come to take my body away, my belongings.
They will make a thorough search of my room for money
that I might have hidden away, and they will find not a dime.
Then they will unearth thousands
of poems, and they will know why.


I find it is a good time in my life to be reading the autobiography
of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When Marquez was a child he was
able to gain the attention of adults by telling stories in which he
greatly distorted the details. As an adult he carried this
lovely habit into the writing of his books, even when it came time
to tell the story of his life. The beautiful, magical occurrences that
take place in this telling make it easier for me to accept the horrors
of Alzheimer’s that plague my father. His twisted, misshapen
memories, his hallucinations, his forgetting from one moment
to the next, his face contorting with fear; all this seems slightly more
bearable to me when I feel like a fish at the bottom of the sea
looking up at the stars crying in their infancy. Unfortunately,
Marquez is of no help whatsoever to my mother. His disease
might be the death of her before it is the death
of him. The amount of patience needed to interact with my father
is almost too much to ask of a person. Yesterday
she ended up in the bank crying to a teller. Crying
in public is becoming more and more frequent for her.
She doesn’t know from one day to the next what awaits her.
It’s questionable whether we will have a birthday party
for him this summer. Would he be able to play the role
of a birthday person with even a stitch of understanding
and joyfulness? Would he recognize who came to the party to
celebrate his being ninety years old? Would everyone
appear as a dangerous stranger? Would the gathering
cause him to be capsized in dark bewilderment and sorrow? But,
he has always said that he wanted to live to be one hundred.
Now this miraculous event might indeed come to pass, at
least in his head, since when he last spoke of the subject he
proclaimed that he will be one hundred on his next birthday. And
if he recognizes not a soul at the party, then it will no doubt
feel to him as though he has lived “a hundred years of solitude.”


I meet my mother at the lawyer’s office in town.
We thought it best to talk about my being given
health care proxy and power of attorney for
my father without him initially being present.
The lawyer’s on Main Street. He has new shoes.
He is a very quiet and accommodating man with overly
bushy eyebrows that might crawl off
his forehead at any second. His secretary, the older one,
performs all the small talk about the weather.
The younger is obsessed with eating a bowl of frosted flakes.
We are in there for a very long half an hour,
charged one hundred dollars which I find cheap. Afterwards,
I suggest to my mother that we have coffee together,
but she says she should get back to the house as soon
as possible since my father is being looked after by a neighbor.
So, crossing the street, I walk her to her car. She holds
onto my hand. Her hand is the hand of a woman in her eighties.
It is diminished and bony but still capable of being firm.
She was an exceptionally beautiful woman. Still is. I was always
so proud of the fact, when I was a kid, of just how beautiful
my mother was. Naturally enough, I could never understand how
my father had managed to actually have this woman in his life.
I lived with the suspicions that he could read such thoughts in
my eyes. But, I’m well aware of the fact that their love endures
on a level I may never know. I feel like weeping right here
in the street. I help her into her car. She makes a u-turn and
drives off in the direction rain is coming from. I stand there,
rooted in front of a closed movie theater in a decaying town
that lies between a river and a creek. It is a morning in April.
At some point Alzheimer’s could force us to put my father in
a nursing home. I don’t talk to my mother about this too much.
We know the possibility exists. I dread the day when
I’ll be responsible for separating them. It will be like
tearing the wings off a bird and throwing them up in the air and
expecting them to fly.


There’s a sadness to it, of course, my becoming more
and more isolated from the world. I remember, years ago,
when I was living at the motel, there was this woman who
used to come and go, sometimes staying for months at a time.
Every so often I’d go over to her room, sit around, and talk with her.
The room would smell from clove cigarettes and dirty wash.
Over the lampshades pieces of clothing were draped, to bring
the light down to the most remarkable dimness. This light
never failed to charm and attract me, as a moth would be
attracted to a bright light (although, I suppose moths are
drawn to dim light also). Anyway, I find myself steadily
becoming increasingly like this woman, and it’s not always
the most comfortable realization. Although, I cannot say
that I am living with dirty wash. No, this I cannot admit to.
If anything, I’m fanatical about washing clothes. My
clothing has worn thin, not from my wearing it but from
the continuous washings. But, my god, like this woman
I’m letting the house go dark. She died at the motel, from cancer.
Some nights I’d see her crossing the parking lot, meager flesh
on her bones, and she’d knock on my door and she’d ask me
to play Mozart on my stereo set. She loved Mozart.
In her youth she had been a very promising violist, but
injury and shock from a fire had made her a ghost
of her old talent, her old self. I used to feed her also,
the miniscule amount she was capable of eating.
She loved sharing a thin sandwich as much as
she loved Mozart. I told her it takes
a lot of solitude to write a poem.
She told me it takes a lot of solitude
to die.

[from: DEVOURING BIRDS, New and Selected Poems, Blind Dog Press, Australia,2012.]

More on Ronald Baatz can be found via his web page by clicking here…


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