Friday, November 16, 2018

Daphne in Paradise

I prayed as I fled the god’s burning embrace
save me, change me, whatever it takes.
The soles of my blistered feet went hard
and shiny, left cloven tracks in the falling ash.

New strength in my slender legs    I bounded
faster and farther through the smoke    to the river
to safety    my ears cupped forward ignoring
behind me the screams and the roar of fire

the god passed
and I walk in his traces
staring at strangeness

Nothing recognizable but the streets
still gridding the ashen landscape
cozy cul-de-sacs flanked by concrete pads
some squatted by burned-out hulks of cars.

all form is destroyed

Nothing left that looks like a house
since the fire came over the hilltop
taller than power lines, loud as a freight train,
tornado-force, throwing pickup trucks like toys.

memory fades

Nothing could stop it. Superheated air exploded.
Families fled on gridlocked streets
or got out of their cars and ran for the river.
Smoke filled the valleys for hundreds of miles.

somewhere here was a home
never again to be mine

Image credit: Noah Berger, AP

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Writing Over the Map

The Magicians
The Magician King
The Magician's Land

Lev Grossman

The Magicians was published in 2009, and starts with the main character being admitted to magic school. Inevitably, it was gushed over as "the next Harry Potter." This comparison was even more than usually unhelpful: these books are not YA, in as much as Quentin Coldwater is roughly the same age at the start of his story as Harry and friends at the end of theirs. Brakebills is college, not high school, and Quentin graduates about halfway through the first book.

In any case, Grossman reveals the true literary antecedent of this series on page 6 of the first book:

"Christopher Plover's Fillory and Further is a series of five novels published in England in the 1930s. They describe the adventures of the five Chatwin children in a magical land that they discover while on holiday in the countryside with their eccentric aunt and uncle."

It's no great spoiler to say that, although Quentin at this point thinks Fillory is fiction, it turns out to be a real place. Fillory is actually one of a great (perhaps infinite) number of worlds accessible via an enormous (perhaps infinite) cityscape dotted with fountains, cognate to the "Wood Between the Worlds," described in the sixth book of the Narnia series by C. S. Lewis (The Magician's Nephew, itself perhaps the departure point for Grossman's titles). Fillory itself has a number of Narnia-like features, such as a resident deity (actually two) in animal form, a need for human monarchs (set of four, to be exact), an eastern ocean dotted with fabulous islands, et cetera.

But Fillory is far more than warmed-over Narnia pastiche, or even an updated, adult-aged version. It's a brilliantly realized imaginary realm in its own right. In fact...

Like a lot of people my age-- and, I suspect, like Grossman himself-- I read the Narnia books uncritically as a child, and loved the stories. As an adult, I find them not only morally objectionable, but nearly unreadable: I blogged about it in some detail here, and won't belabor the point now. Nevertheless, like Lord of the Rings and A Wrinkle in Time, they had become an indelible part of my psychic landscape. It was a difficult area, one I didn't like to visit but couldn't simply write off the map.

It turns out the map could be written over. By Lev Grossman.

In reading the "Magician" books for the first time, I could feel the map of Fillory fitting itself to my mental map of Narnia and obscuring, if not obliterating, it. Fillory's mountains are higher, its oceans deeper, its magic more dazzling and terrible. More importantly, Fillory is alive with the kind of emotional truth that Lewis only occasionally managed to touch. Fillory is, now and forever, more real to me than Narnia.

The "Magicians" books are not just Lewis deconstruction: there's a lot to them besides Fillory (as if that weren't enough). The story of Quentin and his friends and the land of Fillory ends up being embedded in a much larger story, of which we get only glimpses. Grossman delves into the nature and purpose of magic and the structure of the universe, which many writers simply take for granted or use as window dressing. This is thoughtful fantasy, in amongst the wonders and the terrors and the occasional downright horror.

Read these books at your peril.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Reading at Free Range Poetry

Free Range Poetry
October 1st, 6:00 - 7:30 PM
Multnomah County Library, NW Branch
2300 NW Thurman
Portland, OR

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

California Firefighters: In memoriam

They read their names in fire. They write in ash.
They sleep on dirt and wake to rolling smoke
while forests burn and helicopters crash.
They breathe and work where others cough and choke.

They sleep on dirt and wake to rolling smoke,
to racing towers of tornado-flame,
to breath that works where others cough and choke.
They whisper every fallen comrade’s name.

The racing towers of tornado-flame
drink air and leave unbreathable exhaust.
They whisper every fallen comrade’s name.
They see the price, but never count the cost.

Drink air, and leave unbreathable exhaust
while forests burn and helicopters crash.
They pay the price, and we must count the cost.
Read their names in fire. Write them in ash.

Andrew Brake
Matthew Burchett
Brian Hughes
Cory Iverson
Don Ray Smith
Jeremy Stoke
Braden Varney

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Strange Atmosphere

The sun never hated me before.
This heat's a hostile stare against my skin,
my old friend the sun
coppered by smoke to a strange and judging eye.
An atmosphere that makes it hard to breathe--
the East Wind, full of dead leaves--
a catch in the throat.
What hateful thunder, heat-lightning
will strike on my street? Who
will die today?

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

But You Must Visit Powell’s

no out-of-town guest escapes that cry.
Burnside, Hawthorne, Cedar Mills, it doesn’t matter,
go for an author event, stay to browse.

Buying books from Amazon compared
to shopping Powell’s is like—

it’s not the buy-local ideology (which I support)
or that Powell’s is a union shop (which I endorse)
it’s not even the coffee. It’s

the difference between buying a bouquet from
and walking through a wildflower meadow.

The smell of paper. The colors and textures.
And if you go home without picking anything, there’s still
a sense of ease
of timelessness between the wooden walls

and the dust on your fingertips, maybe flecks of red and blue,
from touching faded paperbacks.
Bumping into browsing friends
or strangers who might become friends.

Once we met a man in Religion
who had half the books stacked on the floor. He was buying
for a bookstore in London. A co-religionist of ours,
we brought him home for dinner, because, hotel food
you get tired.

Even friends who don’t read
(we have a few. I know, it’s weird)
we make sure to enforce the pilgrimage: you must, you must
you must visit Powell’s.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Friday, July 13, 2018

Broken Watches

Broken watches, frozen hands
pulled from landslides, from debris.
Mud-stained faces, shattered bands

crystals cracked and scratched by sand
windows on catastrophe,
these broken watches. Frozen hands

raised in prayer or command,
unheard by disaster. See
these mud-stained faces. Shattered bands

of mourners search the shattered land
while more typhoons rise from the sea.
Broken watchers, frozen hands

linked against the new demands
of mere survival, wipe their tears
from shattered mud-stained faces. Bands

of racing rain and twisting strands
of stormcloud fill the sky with fear
and broken watches.

Wristwatches found at the site of a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano, Japan. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Friday, July 06, 2018

Sorrow Call My Name

Old Man Sorrow follow me around
Gonna take my troubles all the way downtown
Go to the waterfront and lay my troubles down.

Blues man, play me a soulful refrain
Blues man give me a cure for sorrow’s pain
Play so loud I never hear Sorrow call my name.

Blues ring out and they’re fit to wake the dead
Red dust blowing and red clouds overhead
Old Man River, now he calls my name instead.

Old Man Sorrow, come and take my hand
Slow-dance with me to the music of the band
When I tell you all my troubles I know you’ll understand.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Second-Hand Smoke

Imagine this in Bob Dylan's voice. And with some funky jazz/folk instrumentals.

If I say I don’t inhale, you’ll think that it’s a joke
One time I lighted up a joint and tried to take a toke
My lungs just would not take it, all I could do was choke (cough, cough)
I think I’m stuck with sucking on your second-hand smoke.

I’m really not a big wheel, I might be just a spoke
Small frog in a big pond, you can barely hear me croak
They say that weed is so cheap, but I am so darn broke
Can’t buy my own, I have to settle for some second-hand smoke.

Underneath the Hawthorne Bridge, they said that it was oke
I tried to hang out over there, the privilege was revoked
I guess I’m just a sad and undeserving bloke
Can’t even get my hands on any second-hand smoke.

Not going to get political and say how I’m all “woke”
But if you see me sleeping, won’t you please give me a poke?
I might be passed out drunk, I might have had a stroke
I might just be high on other people’s second-hand smoke.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Food Cart Food Pod Browsin'

Apologies to the Mommas and Poppas...

All the carts are closed
And the sky is grey
Looking for some food
On a weekend day
I’d have eaten lunch now
If it was Monday

Food cart food pod browsin’
On a weekend day

Went into a restaurant
For some take-away
Slapped me with a service charge
That I couldn’t pay
You know the waiter doesn’t like it
If I wouldn’t stay

Food cart food pod browsin’
On a weekend day

All the carts are closed now
And the sky is grey
Looking for some food
On a weekend day
If I cannot eat here
I must cook today

Food cart food pod browsin’
On a weekend day

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Monday, June 25, 2018

Detention Camp Terzanelle

Looks like doggie daycare: rows of steel pens
inside a Walmart under fluorescent lights.
Lucky you. The later-come will have to live in tents.

Inside the Walmart they never turn off the lights
so you try to sleep with a T-shirt over your head
and anyway, you can’t tell the daytime from the night.

Try to sleep with a T-shirt pulled over your head.
The little girls need help, but you’re just thirteen
and don’t know if your parents are alive or dead.

The little girls need help. You’re just thirteen.
You change their diapers. Tell them to pray for hope.
Mama will come, I promise. Sleep now and dream.

You change their diapers and you pray for hope
remembering the last time you saw your mother.
You dream of her standing in the shadow of a rope.

Remember the last time you saw your mother
on her knees in the water, surrounded by agents,
begging them not to take your baby brother.
Remember the world outside this chain-link fence?

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Slow Motion

“I move slow,” she says. “Give them plenty of warning.
Not like Fuego—boom, pyroclastic flow,
hot death faster than a horse could run.

I move slower than a man can walk. Got my eye
on the seashore. Getting there. Getting there.

Not to say it’s safe. You could fall onto lava and burn,
breathe toxic fumes or superheated steam, be hit by lava bombs,
but you'd have to work at it.”

She stretches out a hand, runs molten fingers
through roofs and walls, in slow motion.
In Guatemala, orange-clad relief workers

are lowering a coffin into a grave, one of their own
killed in the line of duty, in the work of rescue.
Loss is harder to measure than speed. Grief always feels

like slow motion.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Friday, May 18, 2018

Manufacturing Inevatibility

Columbine, 1999 ”Unthinkable”
Sandy Hook, 2012 “Never again”
Marjory Stoneman Douglas, 2018 “The day you pray will never come”
Santa Fe, 2018 “Eventually it was going to happen here”

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Friday, May 04, 2018

Puna Burning

Pili grass is a sweet, sweet smell
sweetest when it burns. A whiff like incense
before the stink of sulfur and burning stone
drowns the breeze.

Lady, yours is a harsh love.
Everything owed to you: black sand, blue waves
red-blossomed ohi’a, red-berried ohelo
is yours to take back in a breath of fire.

This place, where solid ground
shakes and roars as loud as surf, boils and flows
like water. Last time, they moved a church
but homes had to be left to burn

in Puna’s woodlands.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Slow Burn

You tell me that these hills didn't used to be so green,
that irrigation and the lake behind McNary
have permanently changed the climate. More grass
between the sagebrush, fewer tumbleweeds. Tumbleweeds
took over a town in California this week—
buried gardens, choked driveways, stacked house-high by the wind.
That won’t happen here since man-made moisture
tamed the storms of hot dust, a little.

You tell me that these hills used to be emptier.
You remember Rattlesnake Mountain’s crest
blond and naked against the sky. Not as it is now,
square-toothed with the silhouettes of giant houses. You remember
when its slopes were not girdled with asphalt,
draped with subdivisions.

You tell me that these hills were sown with terrible seeds
that burned underground like secrets. Names no-one spoke
though all knew them. Fat Man
ripened here like a misshapen fruit
in the hothouses of Hanford. He burst over a city
on the far side of the world—flash burn—
seared astonished shadows into masonry.

The seeds left here burn slow and poisonous.
They leach into soil and water. They take root,
winding themselves through the bones of these mountains.
They cannot be dug out,
cannot be caged in rotting concrete,
cannot be carried through collapsing tunnels,
cannot be tamed with water. From the slopes of these hills
hot dust blows again.

Available! High-Voltage Lines, Knocking from Inside