Monday, December 9, 2013

poem to matt henriksen


Now I need to write, but something is preventing me.
My dollars don't equal dollars
in this economy of parenthood

in this dustbowl
I return

my wall street, the walls I built
to shield
from small figures on a vast horizon
of vast horizons & lake houses
boats & dementia

bottles bobbing in the lagoon
& a watery face saying "daddy"

& a watery face saying "darling"
because & I say
I do declare

Fuck Sentimentality. This is just--
it is just & it is real.

The mountains can't recede
but I'll push them off the line
of sight if need be

if you need me
if you need.

Friday, November 15, 2013

You remembered me before
you could remember who
I was & this the dense
terrain of heart & bone
in our reflection, wood-
paneled walls, a sprig
of thyme, too many under
a fog & and a dalliance,
these things make
a cathedral to the now
that was in photographs
& dusty furniture, our
"thing" past or beyond
the reach of what once
mattered. This dark
matter, those old people,
standing in a queue,
they are us.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

new poem

A few frightened maples
& some misplaced birds,
crested jays, I think,

foreground the red house
on the farm where I sit
as the world grows larger,

disturbed at brindled
horses & elderly dogs,
scent of bath soap

on my hands, knowledge
that homecoming is not
returning but acclimation

to what surrounds, denial
of a face in the white sky,
cleaving to an idea,

swath of fallow crops,
last century's last love,
that will not displace

these fallen things.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My generation’s best phrenologists said
Something about a rose, windblown carcasses
Displayed just so to say your head isn’t right
On the coffee cup emblazoned Memphis
No Elvis in my mid-day buzz but sanity
At an all-time premium: some tree, that one,
Over there with the crested jay & the foam
Finger. These are the finest days, the days
Of broken surplus & pamplemousse.
Your soda gives me pause: it’s broken
Over here, so many bubbles, so little text.
& the next best ratchet foams a coastal
Rise of trees & monumental rocks alight.

Thursday, August 29, 2013


We were young & we were shattered.
We took our lives & we settled down.

“I like your town & your trees & your
bodies of water” the way the music
drains out across a field. No vision here.

The house we built no more
than a maintenance shack. Insect shells.
Dry road. No visions.

I don’t believe I understand. God
was happening all at once & even
though we didn’t believe, he made us
good in the wind, made us something big

& dead & so comes love, so comes
this anniversary. So comes again
up, empty, open on the face of the waters.

Open across the breadth of the sea.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Biographical Note

I am not a politic.
I am not a politics.
I am not a politick.
I am not white magick.
I am not a sonnet unfurled.
I am not a crown prince, not a spear of asparagus
of the sort buried, robbed of chlorophyll so as to be
the best thing there is to be, which is white & fat.

I am not a sonnet in your hedgerow.
I am not an alarm in your digital.
I am not digitalis extracted from the vagina-like
foxglove to cure your terminal illness.
I am alarmed by your refusal to capitulate.
I masturbate twice, then absolve myself on your back.

I am trying not to hear you but goddamn the sonnets
are so fucking loud.
I am not reading your book about mangroves & paneer.
I am not a brick.
I am not a Frenchman walking all over your America.
America I am not a trail nor a trial nor a fish masala.
I am not a foreign national.
I am not a national velvet.
I am not Andy Warhol.

I am not employed by your "man."
I am not interred in the Cliche Mausoleum.
I am not finding in this new enterprise something
to make me a better man like it was supposed to do
but am finding new reasons to be annoyed.
I am not a crown of sonnets.
I am not a purple.

I am saying this very slowly so
that you will understand very slowly.

I am not a self-referential dead lyric.
I am spending half the day just coming back around.
I am not a proud man.
I am not a doctor of physick.

I am not a peninsula.
I am not America's Wang.
I am not those blinking taillights &
I am not exploding at 10,000 feet.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More thoughts on the "internet / television Atheist."

The argument that the Atheist most often makes, most often in public but also in private conversations, is NOT an argument that God does not exist. It is also not an argument that the Bible or the Koran or whatever holy book a particular faith adheres to is somehow incorrect or false. Instead, the most common argument of the mission-driven Atheist is that a person of faith cannot also be a person of reason or intelligence. In simpler terms, the atheist argues that if you are a Christian (for example) you are an idiot.

The argument that the Bible is *not* true, at least in an objective, testable way, isn't much of an argument when posed to anyone but the most strict biblical literalists. Most educated people of faith understand a holy book to be a very different document than a science book or a treatise on logic, a book that is understood differently than one understands science or even more subjective forms of writing such as history or journalism. This premise is easily testable--what reasonable person believes that snakes talk, or giant fish swallow men? If we allow that this is a small percentage of reasonable people and we also allow that a greater percentage of reasonable people also profess to be Christians or Jews or Muslims, we can deduce that many reasonable people of faith don't literally believe many biblical accounts.

In a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, the host accuses a Christian guest of "cherry-picking" only the "good things" in the Bible. I am surprised that the guest didn't point out that Maher, in pointing out the bad things (as when he calls the Old Testament God a mass murderer--a characterization I can't disagree with) is also "cherry-picking." This should not surprise anybody--we do this as a matter of course all the time. Accepting or rejecting certain parts of a whole does not mean wholesale acceptance or rejection of the whole. This fallacy, though, allows Maher to accuse people of faith of hypocrisy or stupidity. The fact is, reasonable people of faith do not, on the whole, believe everything in the bible as literal truth. They just don't.

Similarly, ask a religious person to prove that God exists. He can't do it. He simply cannot. But there are plenty of people who believe in God. This point, then, is hardly arguable. The Atheist easily wins this. You cannot prove a negative.

So what the Atheist is really saying to the believer is that the believer is somehow less intelligent or, at least, misguided for professing religious faith. In simpler terms, I'm smarter than you.

The Atheist, then, is not making an intellectual argument so much as a social one. The Atheist doesn't want to associate himself with someone who possesses Keats' negative capability. The Atheist is not trying to convince you that God doesn't exist or that the Bible is bunk. He is trying to tell you that he thinks of you as a lesser being for having the audacity to believe in or find comfort in something that is not scientifically testable. The Atheist does not like you. Why? Because his myopic view of the world dictates that he is smarter than you. And he doesn't like to hang out with fools.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mission Statement

To re-imagine the "writing life" so as not to drown. To continue to write with 1) no pretense to ambition and 2) no actual ambition save that to clear a space for better thoughts, for more lucid practice, by which I mean, living.
Beneath a sriracha-washed summer sky,
my kid said "puffy cumulus clouds"
while all of us, the entire town,
tried to talk about our feelings.

Monday, July 22, 2013

on Whales and Old Pals

My friend, former classmate & colleague, and generally amiable gal, Tamara Holloway has a new blog. She's writing about Moby-Dick at the moment.

So of course, I got to thinking about the white whale myself and my first encounter with Melville.

I read Moby-Dick when I was 20 years old and in the Navy. Fitting, I guess, though at the time I was not on a ship but land-locked in the San Joaquin Valley, surrounded by fighter jets, cotton fields, and methamphetamine people.

I read it because a tall, blonde, dashing shipmate of mine told me I should read it. I believed him because he had an easy air of nonchalance, was flip, good-looking, a scratch golfer, a stock investor, and a card-counting blackjack player. He let his hair grow too long and he put his feet up on his desk. I figured that he was pretty wise, and that if he said I should read Moby-Dick, I should read Moby-Dick. I hadn’t read *anything* at this point in my life except for comic books and pulpy sci-fi and fantasy books.

That same spring, I enrolled in a community college course–it was American History, part 1–taught by an old, Nixon-worshipping retired professor/Methodist minister. For one of our papers we had a “book review” option, namely, read a “great American novel” and write about it–what does it say about American History as you understand it, having been a student in this class for the past 16 weeks, and so forth. I wrote mine on Moby-Dick. I talked about Alexis de Tocqueville in the introductory paragraphs. Pequod as pre-muticultural multicultural America. Etc. I got an A and decided that I might keep going to college.

I remember hating the chapters on ambergris and whaling minutiae, not because I hate stuff like that but because I just wanted to get back to the damn story. I might have to read it again, 20 years on.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

summer song

In a summer of spearmint
& sinuous heat, books
dismantled on the hearth,
our heart beats one two
for an emergent emergency,
forms come from each plaint
of this chest & that.

Ain't got no Florida up in this grave, today. Great men perch along fenceposts with condors, buzzards, bald eagles,

& other connoisseurs of carrion.

Crawl at me like a Stutz Bear-Cat, Jim. Sum up the summer with a frothy refreshment.

What's black & white
& read all over?

A few months ago, it was a newspaper, & the answer was the answer to my daughter's favorite riddle, because she's only four & she'd never seen a newspaper until I showed her one last week.

"Daddy, that's not red!"

But it was.

Summer of Sharknado & Northeast heatwave. Summer my friend sent a book out into the world.

Summer of chest heaves & miniature donuts.

June was wet & melancholic,
July is hot & patriotic.
August will be august & sincere.

Sincerely, severely,

Anthony Robinson

Friday, June 7, 2013

When I first started writing "seriously," as they say, it was because I just loved poetry. I was overwhelmed by discovering something *new* by feeling part of something through simply reading, and then having that feeling enhanced through writing *into* it. I couldn't not write, and I wrote every day, thought about writing every day. Read every day. I didn't see beyond this bubble--there was nothing like ambition, or career, or publication or anything on my mind at the time.

I guess, two or three years into it, I began to meet other writers, both domestic and foreign, as it were. Both classmates and students, both "IRL" and through the internet machine. I got to go a few places where I met others. I edited some journals, participated in a way that only strengthened my love of this thing. Through writing and reading, I had also found a community, the particular aspects of which sometimes eclipsed the love of the words in the first place.

And then. And then, I don't know what. I don't know what happened. I know a lot of what didn't happen. I watched a lot of that community disperese, move on, people whom I had published and thought I was friends with, people I had worked with, people who had championed my work, and so forth, weren't there any more. And I wasn't there for them.

And then I wasn't writing. I was reading very little. A different sort of life took over--work, family.

Then that stopped happening.

Today, in the early summer of 2013, I still see my old friends, my old colleagues, my old community members, publishing their third and fifth books, getting tenure here or there, being "famous" in a way that is, you know, not really "famous" but "poetry famous," which means, I suppose, a few people read your stuff, and you get awards sometimes, and you get to teach college kids sometimes, and you get a paycheck, and you're still in this community that we all used to be in together.

And when the imaginary interlocuter asks me how I feel to have almost been a part of something that I am no longer a part of, how it feels to have lost this community, how it feels to see my former mates being "poetry famous" and having happy families with children and nice things and bookshelves, while I am for the most part, homeless--

I can't really answer in any way that seems intelligent. I just shrug. I'm like, uh. Yeah.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

S. left Eugene the weekend of Father's Day. It was mid-June and her hopes of securing a summer teaching position had fallen through. She brought S. over to see me early Thursday morning, which was unusual. E. had a cold and was fussy. I was only able to hold her for a few seconds before she cried for mommy. And then they left, in a hurry to get on with their day. Of course I didn't know they weren't coming back.

S. called that Sunday, or maybe it was Monday. She was in Montana, visiting a friend. It was an impromptu vacation she told me unconvincingly. They were to be back in a weeks, and she was sorry she just up and left, but there was no time to call. (Yeah, I know.) Minutes after hanging up the phone, I walked over to her apartment. The front door was open, the place was bare. There was a U-Haul in the driveway and unfamiliar people walking back and forth with boxes.


In the days that followed I quickly realized that all of "our" friends were her friends. I had nobody to talk to, and quite frankly had no idea what was going on. I was too hopeful or naive to call it "kidnapping" but that's what it seemed like. It wasn't until a couple of years later that I realized that S.'s best friend, the one person in all of this who seemed good, seemed caring, and seemed to genuinely like me, had more or less--if not outright engineered--insisted upon this stealing away in the middle of the night. (I don't know if it was night. It must have been night.) It was, she figured, in the best interest of S. and E. I don't doubt she believed that but it can't make me wholly forgive her.


We see people how we want to see them, try to love them in the way that we want them to love us, and even those we don't necessarily get on with, we try to see in a not unflattering light. But all we have is light and absence of light, and the shadows are just the same as those fluffy clouds we look at: we find animals, we find a face on the surface of a distant planet, in the formless we seek forms that remind us of each other, of ourselves, and we want our best selves for others. We want others to be their best selves for us.

One day someone comes in and turns flicks the switch. Cleans up. We see the dust in the corners, the cracks in the walls.


When I write about this, I'm going to call this chapter the Great American Fake-out. Or the Friendship Juke. Or Humanity Pump-Fake. Or That One Time that My Kid Was Stolen and The People I Thought Were My Friends Were Actually Just Strangers With Kind Faces.


Portland artist / recluse Matthew Hattie Hein seems to understand how important appearances are, not just to others but to our sense of self, and how much we willingly buy into illusions of good intentions and good will. He sings:

"Thanks, it's nice to be invited. You look nice, or nicely lighted. / Are we going somewhere after this?"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

potions. salves. unguents.

I was so glad to get your letter

in the grass to get your letter

pieces of your letter in the head

somatic components of sky & oval


I wish this thing had moving parts.

I'd try to fix this thing if things
still had moving parts.

She mouthed three small words & didn't
look like a small person but a nail file.

A board is a Set-up.

"Love" is a motion detector set for "stun."

This is why it's advisable
to not have moving parts.


Always get your news from a refutable source.
The found me face-down in the source

Repeated at the source.
Your news wet at the source.

Your face is an immovable force.

Water all around. Cancel.
Carmine Appice is on That Metal Show right now. He still looks exactly like he did 25 years ago. He wrote a drum tech column for Hit Parader or Circus--one of the big "rock and metal" magazines of the 1980s.

In 2003, in the baggage claim of the St Louis airport, I stood next to him and he looked exactly like you'd expect an aging rock star to look--or, specifically--how you'd expect Carmine Appice to look: skinny, dressed in black, sleeveless leather vest, 1970s Mick Ronson hair, *that mustache*.

I was there for poetry. He was there for rock and roll. I wanted to tell him I liked his music but I didn't know his music. I just knew that he was the drum guy in Circus magazine. And you know, he looked like that.

Don't go to St. Louis for poetry. Don't go there if you're looking for a Pepsi. Don't go there for a girl--really don't go there for that.

In my variously limited travels across our Great Nation, disappointing trips many, I try to find something notable or interesting to file away to tell someone about when I need small talk. In St. Louis, I didn't get a Pepsi, got burned by a girl, spent a weekend drunk on bourbon in a Ramada inn, ordering expensive room service and a strange form of pizza prevalent in St. Louis involving a crackery crust and a strange processed cheese, watching James Spader and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the cable television act out master and servant stuff, less sexy than stylized. So that's what I remember about STL. That and Sadam Hussein was found in a spider hole that weekend. And I wrote two poems. And at the reading I gave, the Indian kid from the spelling bee movie "Spellbound" was there. I don't know if he liked the reading.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A picture day

& he was old then
but every one
was old then

again I lost you

no blue
no water

Friday, May 31, 2013

Resigned Authority

In the foreign head a fluorescence
making open a space for beautiful sentences--

as an authority as an authority please
surrender your embittered

male places. a swallow on the sill.
to flash & tumble this automaton this laundromat.


Post-identity, the begonias no longer know
whom to droop for: if this is fatherhood, more lightness please.


Build me a frame & around that frame build me a box
& around that box a cloudless sky & then a better frame.

Fall asleep an opening toward a better grave.

Thursday, April 25, 2013



Middling through a forest unawares
obscure bright cancers grant me certain life
as if, agape, I enter something wild.


If this is hell, why all the calm?

Half-eaten fruits &
prior women

the sins that enter emerge anew

on a side I've never considered.


Things don't work
so well anymore.

A force of a forest, a cane,
a final wreck.

My knee is still sore.

Your face glides across the waters
like one of those leggy, slim bugs.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Receding to brown: day
swept over precision attacks

my fan base is on board
as the last train leaves

& your heart is an expanse
of flowered bandwidth:

don't stop the crocus
or the golden finch

each part once embedded,
numbered, now pried loose

from the fence post
but I cannot push

the water through the gate.

Thursday, March 7, 2013


I'm making broadsides of my poems (limited edition of 1). That's right--one poem per person, each poem different. I'll only make 25. First come, first served. It'll be autographed and printed on fancy paper. Five American dollars each. Paypal at antrobin AT gmail DOT com.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Something huge starts up
& says "you're still here"
while the night continues
beneath some bough
& I want to place myself there
an X in the corner of this
expanse: plaintive the natives
sing low & in a new place, here
we plant our spears & begin.


I am a civil engineer on a crumbling bridge
that spans the lake near the house
where you used to live
growing up in a reed waste fine smooth things
to brighten the interior are spidering
away the life


I am a keep in a copse the woods
a reminder of bullets & forks while rattles
clamber outreach in a plastic gallows
forgetfulness does not excuse us rather from
the insides it redeems
giant rhododenron savior of back yards
split fences foment here a resolution
for the scarlet tanager
non-native solutions to overcome
this burgeoning prayerbook
how can we know how to live

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Joseph Ceravolo's "Ho Ho Ho Caribou"

This appreciation was originally published on My Other Blog on August 4, 2005. Republished here because it is a timely time for Joe Ceravolo.

Sunday, August 4, 2005

Welcome to the Church of JC (Joseph Ceravolo). Today’s sermon concerns the first section of Ceravolo’s poem “Ho Ho Ho Caribou.”

Ho Ho Ho Caribou
for Rosemary


Leaped at the caribou.
My son looked at the caribou.
The kangaroo leaped on the
fruit tree. I am a white
man and my children
are hungry
which is like paradise.
The doll is sleeping.
It lay down to creep into
the plate.
It was clean and flying.


The dedication provides context. Though the first-time reader may not know that “Rosemary” refers to Ceravolo’s wife, he or she probably instinctually knows that poets usually dedicate poems to people close to themselves. The absence of a surname also indicates an intimate level of familiarity. “Familiar” is an apt word here—the poem is about Ceravolo’s family. Or the family in general and the father/husband’s role within the family.


And what of the title? Like much in Ceravolo, I would guess that the title was initially a phrase chosen for its aural effects. The long vowels lend a certain languidity to the phrase, slow down the pronunciation, almost force a speaker to linger on the words. Try to say it fast. This “training” of the tongue and eye is instructive, as the whole poem (and Ceravolo’s work in general) deserves a reading that lingers on the small bits, the phrasings, not just the semantic effects, but the aural/oral ones as well. Ceravolo’s playfulness peeks through in the title as well, “Ho ho ho,” probably makes many readers think of gangsta rap, but as this poem predates NWA, Slick Rick, and Ice-T, we must not get anachronistic on its ass. “Ho ho ho” is what Santa Claus says. And what guides Santa’s sleigh? Reindoor, aka caribou.


The poem’s first section sets the scene and reveals its method. The first line is a verb phrase missing a subject. Who leaped at the caribou? The Roman numeral “I” that precedes the first line provides a plausible explanation, though I think no explanation is needed. The important act here is the leaping; the poem begins already in motion. Some Greek or Roman guy, Horace, maybe, or Aristotle, or both recommended beginning poems in the middle of the action. They got this idea from an older blind Greek fellow. More verb phrases follow: “My son looked at the caribou,” “the kangaroo leaped on the / fruit tree.” A lot is going on here. The first person (second, if we count Rosemary) we encounter is the speaker’s son, looking at the caribou that is, ostensibly, the inspiration for the poem. The kangaroo, an aural cousin of the caribou replicates the action in the initial line, with more specificity. We have a subject (the kangaroo) and object (the fruit tree) and an action (leaping). The emphasis on motion, the in medias res (we now return to your regularly scheduled program, already in progress), is important here because Ceravolo, while always lyrical, always concerned with sounds, is very often a narrative poet. He establishes that he is writing a narrative poem by beginning with a quick succession of actions, actions already in motion. While the pure lyric poem meditates (on a dot, rather than in a line, to be Tralfamadorian about it) on a moment, or an emotional situation (looking at London sleeping from Westminster bridge brings a minor epiphany to Will Wordsworth). A narrative poem unfolds over time—motion, physical motion, a journey, is one of the most common ways a narrative unfolds. Maybe the only way. As I Lay Dying is a lyrical narrative.


Having established the narrative, the speaker introduces himself. The poignancy of the phrase “I am a white / man and my children /are hungry” is tempered by socio-economic and racial considerations. How important is it that the speaker is a white man? Why are his children hungry? Before we can fully consider what (if any) social commentary lurks in this phrase, the speaker informs us that this, his situation (being white and poor) “is like paradise.” The family situation. The family stranded figuratively (and maybe literally) in a desert place that is not entirely a desert place (fruit trees). The presence of the “white man” as central figure in the family drama. The confusion of the elements, the leaps in imagery (and the actual “leaping” in the poem), set the scene. A white man with hungry children in a wild, dangerous place that is also paradise. Familial love creates a paradise that transcends the less than idyllic (but more than a little whimsical) landscape in which Ceravolo has placed our family.


The final lines in the stanza:

The doll is sleeping.
It lay down to creep into
the plate.
It was clean and flying.

operate primarily on an aural level. Consonant + “l” sounds prevail: “sleeping,” “plate,” “clean,” “flying.” Rhyme: “sleeping,” & “creep.” Assonance: long “e” sounds. The “pitch” of the language here is turned a notch higher (if my ear is tuned correctly) than what comes before. This is a tonal shift brought about not only by apparently discontinuous imagery, but by the texture of the language itself. Note that I say “apparently.” The sleeping doll replaces the earlier non-image of “my son.” The doll, the son, lay down, and creeps into the plate. Once again, we have a verb phrase, this time a more complex construction. The doll sleeps, lays down, and creeps. Into a plate. Because it’s hungry. “It” in the last line can refer to the doll or the plate. If the plate is clean, it is empty. It may have once contained food (clean your plate!), or not. That it is flying is consistent with the other actions reported so far: looking, leaping, creeping, sleeping. These words also recall a sort of Edenic setting. Paradise, right? Crawling, creeping things. Birds of the air. Beasts of the field. Fruit trees.


It is one thing to say that you don’t like the poetry of Joe Ceravolo. It is quite another to say that you don’t understand it, or don’t “get” it. Emotionally, his tone is very steady, and much of the time he works with narrative that is at least as “understandable” as any Faulkner novel.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

BACKYARD (rev. 2/23/13)


& a prefab interior
for a final

pine tree, thicket
packed with ticks:

water on sound quickens
small child waiting on a train:

standing life a wall
tissue thin: fuse & filament

sparking something
more than minor.


More than days, these.

Central casting brought
us next to lips,

a song



An entire unit so far free
to make entrance on a coyote
a broken

cactus tethered to falling
snows of last air, newspaper
ink on the hill

hangs above three grimy clouds
& the best of my love so
more to find

uprooted a sandpaper
-like resonance & jangle
these pockets

combed over tilted to the left
askew Army cap she & I
watch from a dune

a line of sandpipers & the lake
a cathedral: evaporation
is how you make salt.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


Semi-vast interior
for my final

pine tree, thicket
packed with ticks:

water on sound quickening
small child waiting on a train:

life standing up a wall
tissue thin: fuse & filament

sparking something
more than minor.


More than days, these.

Central casting brought
us next to lips,

a song.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Reading Jess Walter's Financial Lives of the Poets, which is pretty amusing so far, though several chapters in I haven't yet discerned a plot.

A book on book indexing.

Chop Suey, a semi-scholarly cultural history of Chinese food in America.



Thursday, January 31, 2013


I always look
for the birds
in your poems
she sd & I sd
this isn't text
speak this is
Creeley speak this
is Pound speak
& I sd watch out
all that etc.
but she smiled
& there was a bird
in my head & a bird
in my back pocket
& the world
was suddenly made
of bridges over low
rivers & these poems
your aviary

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


The only thing I know for sure about my paternal grandfather is that he he died in his mid-60s after falling into a vodka-induced coma. By all speculative accounts (of which there are only a few) this was a deliberate act, a suicide by bottle. My father obtained leave from the Navy to visit him on his death bed. Dad was 26.


They came from Irish stock. I don't know the exact date that they came over, but an ancient newspaper acount my grandmother once showed me proved that there were Robinsons in the Oregon Territory as early as the 1830s. We also know that, in my father's words, "Colonel Robinson married a squaw." So there's the Irish/Native American bloodline, a volatile mix if the stereotypes of the alcoholic Irishman and the "drunken injun" are to be believed.

There's the landscape: rainy small-town Oregon. In this case, coastal Oregon, the setting for Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Notion. I guess, then, I come from hard-working Irish-American family. Loggers in the family, as in the novel. But I don't know for sure. My father had logging jobs as young man, making a little over two dollars an hour. I guess in there is drink, too. There is the semi-hidden Indian heritage. There are the pine trees and the sand dunes, the jetties, the rocky coastline, a landscape seemingly made for long melancholic days, made for poets, I guess, imbibers, regular blue-collar folk of the Raymond Carver mold.

I spent my entire childhood in towns like these. I learned everything I know about humans in these towns; everything since has been modification, tinkering, corollaries, minor discovery, affirmation.

I keep saying "I guess" not as a placeholder or a tic, but because so much of this work is speculation and rummaging. I don't know how much of this history is actually true, how much is pure guess, how much is well-intentioned reconstruction. But I do know that it's my story. And lest my first few paragraphs give an incomplete impression, I'll just say it: this is not a story about alcohol or alcoholism, drugs or mental illness. It's not a narrative of recovery. It's an account, decades removed, of family. Of a family and families, of trying to understand community and belonging. It's not even about survival or dying. It is, ultimately, about being alone.


There's nothing wrong with growing up in a small town; it has its advantages. It's relatively safe, they say. Everyone knows everyone else. A sense of community. When one is vitally aware of the boundaries of the small town, though--not just geographical but metaphysical, ideological--the "community" takes on a slightly menacing quality. A family, too, is a sort of community. At the age of 15 or so, when I had my first drink, I wanted desperately to escape both of these communities.


When I was a child nobody wore seatbelts. Nobody wore bicycle helmets. Did bicycle helmets even exist? The furniture was orange, the kitchens were formica, the carpet shag. All adults I knew drank heavily. And smoking? It wasn't weird to smoke--it was normal, accepted, and relatively free of health concerns. The other day I saw a young couple, early 20s maybe, pushing a toddler in a stroller. The woman was smoking a cigarette. My first reaction was disgust, derision. Then I thought, hell, I spent nearly every waking moment in my childhood house(s) inhaling my father's cigarette smoke. And I turned out ok, right?

On Being Numerous

Wouldn't say why
over iris, speckled grouse,
a forthcoming
of units, emergent on fidelity.

The field is no longer open:
our good is no good no more.

Speak with open mouth & hands
on the varieties of grace
or green grass waving its "hello"
at the lakes, still frozen, churning.

The mouth is a wry line straight:
my timeline's broken open.
I keep pulling the horizon
closer: I many need to call my broker.

Fallow lines, a systemic corrugation
at work with all these white people.

Did it always work like this?
Has it always felt like this.
A closed system is not closed:
it's just avoiding the hassle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New poems in Coconut, reading with John Beer @DIVA

Gina Myers wrote me last week to let me know that Coconut Magazine is taking three poems for the June issue. Coming on the heels of two or three rejections this month, this was welcome news.

The three poems are all in the manuscript of my upcoming book, which is tentatively titled On the Factorization of Very Large Numbers.

They've been difficult poems to place so far, though I don't exactly submit regularly these days. At this point, though, I'm sitting on a whole book's worth so I hope to get a few more out there on the street before the book hits.


I'll also be reading poems from that ms. this coming April 13th at DIVA in Downtown Eugene. Also reading is John Beer, Canarium poet, and teacher in the Portland State MFA program. It should be a good night. For a poetry reading.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


This morning I wandered in from the freezing fog or ice or whatever it was to find myself in the university bookstore (The Duck Store!) scanning the ever-present discount book tables, where I ran across a whole mess of titles I'd like to read, but alas, I don't even have the $4.98 to spare, due to my insane restricted funds clause (more on this in another post).

I picked up the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I have heard of but was not at all familiar with. I skimmed the first chapter and decided to add it to my list of things to read when I get the chance in 2013.

Of course I started thinking about Lolita and how much I adored it when I first read it as a young man in the mid-90s. A couple of yeara ago, S. and I tried to read it together (the third book in our failed book club; the first two were Wide Sargasso Sea and Ada. When we tried to read Lo, E. was about a year old and S. called me (we were by then living apart) and said that after the first few chapters she'd decided that she couldn't go on. She didn't want to read a manipulative story about a murderer and pedophile with a "fancy prose style." (Humbert's own words, not hers.) Somewhat reluctantly, I admitted to myself that I felt the same way. So Lo remains unreread.

At the beginning of this year I read a small book called Thomas Jefferson's Creme Brulee, which is a bit of historical fluff that promised much more than it delivered. Ostensibly the story of Jefferson's slave James Hemmings, who apprenticed in Paris and became the first classically French-trained American chef, the book suffers from sheer lack of historical information. The author is forced then, to fill pages of tangential information about Parisian customs, the French Revolution, the likes and dislikes of Jefferson's daughters, and so on. Good idea, middling execution. The only thing I really know about James Hemings is that Jefferson eventually freed him, he went on to become a tavern cook in Boston, and died at age 36 from severe alcoholism.

Trudging very slowly through the fifth book in G.R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, A Dance With Dragons, and it's pretty rough going. Both the plot movement and the prose are glacial. But I persist.

Monday, January 21, 2013

William Carlos Williams to Robert Creeley, March 3, 1950

Bad art is then that which does not serve in the continual service of cleansing the language of all fixations upon dead, stinking dead, usages of the past. Sanitation and hygiene or sanitation that we may have hygienic writing.

This is the second collaborative poem I've done with Joseph Massey.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

first new draft in nearly a month

Stop signs circum-
navigate my wife I mean
my life I

mean something was scurrying out
back in the alley last night &

I’m sure it was a raccoon
or a coal miner from another era, a Rural Indiana or something or

A call girl with many numbers, digitized Pi because how else
is it spelled? Thrushes fluffing, danced away

from bushes smoked out
with high school communications on high

said The President & The Prime
Minister indivisible but by one & himself

because we are on the brink of something huge
& largely insignificant:

These are days. Remember a sea
of six-year-olds—

Remember your spoon, your coffee cup,
your curlicue.