Saturday, May 22, 2004

Turlock Motel

We have dreams deeper than
the folds of the blankets
that mimic the contours of everybody
that molded itself into the
improbable shape of the night,

rhythmic instance as you wrap your
arms around my neck, the flat of your
hands pulling me forward into your folds,
deep as the dark of sky that becomes black
beyond comprehension and history worse hours
until yet the gleam, the shine, the faint winking
of another star shows a way, a pinprick in
black construction paper held up against an enormous light
that would burn away
the scruff of this earth
if there was nothing to
block the
of the center of everything,

you are my center you say
in the room as cats and phone messages
come and go with their yowls and beeps,
long into the folds as every surface gives way
again to what is hidden in places the mind sees
as a night when our eyes close as we stand
and the floor feels to give way,
the ground gives way,
every felt inch of the earth we crawled this morning
up and down streets and eventual stairs
gone as if a switch were thrown and
there was only slowness in warm salt water,
we go deep
into the wrap of night,
long in the mouth and
stained with aromas, cigarettes,
a thirst for cold water,

an arm hangs over the side of the bed,
a foot hangs off the other end.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

In Praise of Paul Dresman's Poetry

Selected poems by Paul Dresman
(Cottage in the Park Press)

Readers frustrated and ill by the tone-deaf grating of bad modern verse would do well to acquire a copy of Paul Dresmans terrific collection The Silver Dazzle of the Sun. Dresman, a poet, writer, translator and teacher born in Southern California who presently lectures at the University of Oregon, emerges with this collection as a major voice in American poetry.Where the trend among celebrity poets has moved largely toward a softness scarcely distinguishable from herd-instinct nostalgia,or a reshuffling of old experimental tricks more iconic than satisfying, Dresman returns poetry to the realm of discourse, experience, ideas. The distinction between the work in Silver Dazzle of the Sun and the nervous elegance of much accomplished contemporary poetry is that Dresman understands how to talk about the world through the rigor of verse. Pliant, rhythmic, malleable, fluid and yet solid as the material objects philosophers drive themselves insane interrogating, there is nothing shy nor tentative in these pieces.This is poetry that wants to talk to you. Blessed with an ear for the turns,snaps and lacing configurations that word forms and phrases can bring to bear on a subject, the poet here has mastered William Carlos Williams' compelling if sketchily described notion of the "variable foot" and , achieves what Pound preached when insisting that poetry be written with a mind on the musical phrase, not the metronome. Irony abounds here, as Dresman achieves the strange and wondrous music the idealized speaking voice can give us, while Pound's work sounds its age, creaking flummery at best. Dresmans poetry is rich with a spinning, dynamic music, full of speedy Coltrane-like runs, or modulated with ensemble compactness and precision. This is a writer who approaches his experiences from many routes, paths, ways of entrance. Style is appropriate to subject and tone, and Dresman knows exactly which notes to play, and how often, how loud and how soft. The poems dance and swing and rock and float in a medley of styles united by Dresmans splendidly discriminating ear.Most of all, this is a poetry that lives in the world, poetry as a means to absorb and comprehend events, not something to recede into, feeding on a looping ambiguity.He captures the sense of speed and aggression of California life , where remnants of past years are destroyed in an obsession to build new, useless things, as in "California Frontage" :

The years zip past
like your address in the glass
of a passing Cadillac,
and the curbings repeat.

The grass looks greener
because its older and well kept
women amble the avenues
surrounded with leaves.

Under the eaves of spreading ferns,
we sit looking out for sunsets,
flags by the driveways,
cars returning from work,
porches, doors, sunbursts in bas relief.

We drift though the windows by the sea
and the saber-tooth fronds
on the overhead palms
rattle like fistfuls of keys.
One of the keen things about this body of work is Dressman's particular interest in bringing local and regional distinctions into the pieces he writes. An astute critic of the late Ed Dorn's masterpiece Gunslinger, Dresman's own poems are details of place ,studies of personalities sussing out the manufacture of meaning as terrains are transformed, with an intense, curious intelligence bearing witness in ways that are awed, aghast and swift of stanza, a personality snagging fleet impressions of the disarray created by hubris-laden intentions. History, traditions, specific joys and insanities are restored to poetry's particular mission to make a reader consider themselves deeper in their world, in their own accumulated habits and habitats. It is not, let us emphasize, the mytho- paleontology of some writers who side with Pound and are content to have their fabled genius remain unreadable, parseable only by an anointed coterie. Dressman's poems have extreme empathy with the world. This is a world where one speaks in a tongue that invites response.The speakers are shaped by language that accommodates the vastness of region, The West, both as a physical place and collective social construction, looms large in a good deal of the present poems(as it is in Dorn's long lines), and it is the marriage of voice and location that gives the poetry in The Silver Dazzle of the Sun a life that is absent from too much-published poetry. The world climbs through the language and appears through deft description fresh as a moment of first perception; style is content, to beg an old question, but it's a worthwhile distinction to make clear. Dresman's work brings us a world of felt experience that can be addressed in useful ways. There are no epistemological quandaries here, no rueful meditations on malformed vowels. There is, though, plenty of wit, anger, flights of lyric speculation, writ with a sure composing hand. There is something of a medley of voices at play in these works, where a terrain on which innumerable generations of having written on emerge in a layered and subtly orchestrated music. The poetics of wonder, rage, joy, and sorrow are harnessed with extraordinary skill. Above all else, the poems come from a voice that is speaking to you; there are moments when the candor and unreticent wit of the writing makes you ponder again the incidents in your own experience that you might not have regarded for years. The poetry is that good.An interesting tension is created in "California Frontage", and even within the emphasis of constant change and evisceration of the landscape, the poet still finds the poetic on the broad street corners and patios. The seeming stasis of neighborhoods wedged between strip-mall glutted intersections coexisting alongside the redundant dynamism of a Los Angeles freeway; for all the noise that is generated, a still life none the less. The ordinary detail of neighborhood life is caught in fluid, painterly strokes. Dresman works in many different lengths of line, and the eclectic nature of what his ear picks and his pen composes is remarkable; the conversational twines with the philosophical, zen stillness minds a synthesis with clipped and stinging cadences that suggest hard rock guitar, while nature poems lead to urban realism. These are poems of a world in constant flux, sometimes subtle, graceful, but always dynamic, with an effect on the emotional life of person and place. The snapshot accuracy of the author's description of the churning acres we live on allows us a sense of the large existence we are passing through. There are scores of splendid poems here, some of the surest and best poetry that's been written by an American poet.Dressman's range is impressive, and the works are organized into six sections, "a western child", "histories","california frontage","how to make a chinese landscape painting", "en castellano" and "on sundays, in America". As you can surmise, the titles reflect the places Dresman has been and what he has written about, moving across the continent, over borders and oceans, and back again, with eyes open, ears tuned, the pen ready write. The Silver Dazzle of the Sun is the rare thing in an age where even "instantaneous" is too slow a concept; this work draws you back to it. Additional twists and turns are revealed, nuances are brought to mind, and unexpected inspirations resonate like soft, swift rhymes, just as our own lives characteristically unveil every unexpected thing.

The Silver Dazzle of the Sun is available for $7.OO from Cottage in the Park Press,480 E. 30th Ave.,Eugene, OR. 97405. The publisher will pay the shipping costs.

Last Dance

A mighty morsel is what the world sees
from the sum of the bun damp with
all such expectation that a zipper falls
faster than the credit card lands on the
check, yes, hat , I need my hat, here are
your gloves,

This dance is insane and lovely at the end of the
evening, just when we are leaving
with locked arms an alarm goes off ,
though it sounds more like heavy breathing
and yelps from the pantry, from the linen closet,
a muffled sound of joy, the night is soft
and absorbent.

Monday, May 10, 2004

The Dead Bury the Dead

This sleep is so much Like death, I would want to say, but I resist the drift, the faint pretense of experience, and breath deeply instead until the panic goes and the mind drifts back to a preference for other worlds known in nocturnal turns in the folds of a pillow.

I have not died, what can I know what sleep resembles? Only that slumbers resembles nothing else except other slumbers, dreams other dreams, with the variations that I can call out in writing, speech acts of all kinds, gauging them
against anecdote and heartache.

There are years of family, friends, strangers on trains and in lines waiting for nameless service who share the quality of their last sleep, limitless archives of what it was like going in and out of the lidded shade.

There are still no reports from the dead. The dead bury themselves and they do not make a sound except when we dream of them.

Get Out of Town

You are naked
yet I see nothing
but the mist, the steam
of so many nights

I offer you oranges
but you aren't
the least bit hungry
as you chew your knuckles,

Police offer us
escorts to the
edge of this nervous city,
fully clothed,
Bibles in our suitcases,
thumbs at the ready
by the side of the road,

A helicopter flies over
us, a voice over
a speaker announces
cheap room rates
and pleads for the return of
a missing child,

You say nothing
that matters
yet your thumb
says it all,
a wild , twirling dance
that stops
the headlights
dead in the center
of the two lane
on ramp,

Drivers who
want to hear
a farmer's daughter
from the daughter
of the overall'd toiler himself.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004


I've just figured out
what went wrong
with the haircut
when he showed me
the back of my neck.

It seems that
I was leaving rooms in a hurry,
paperwork and dress shoes
flying in the wake of
nervous wind,
the hairs clinging to
the nape of the neck
and licking the collar
in graceless, sweaty clumps.

My coat was usually one sleeve full,
the other arm grabbing the door knob,
reaching for an elevator button,
a car ignition,
grabbing a hat
that wasn't on my head
when I walked in.

From outside the mirror's frame,
wrists and hands reach out
for something on the
other side of the glass,
either a magazine or a wallet.

Nothing else was revealed.
The frame falls away,
dissolved , really.
There's only my head and face
presumably to the rest of me.

The rest of me is already gone.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

my mother cries over the kitchen sink

she takes off her glasses
and sets them on the counter,

tears come to her eyes
while she hovers over the sink,

a hand holding a knife
that's sharp as sarcasm,

sob, slice!, sob, slice
sob, hack! sob...

i am back from school
with my brothers and my sister

who are already in the basement
watching Popeye on the big Sylvania,

and i watch my mother as she
hacks, sobs, tears, wheezes over
the sink, the window is open,

i can see our neighbors through the
branches of the crabapple tree
as the bunch of them gather around
a grill, someone laughs, i see a football
go through the air, someone laughs again,


i ask what the matter was, what
in the world that goes around
like the big and little hands on the clock
could be wrong,

she looks up, she smiles as only
mothers are able when their eyes
are red and every in their face aches
with pain and fatigue,

liver and onions
she says,
your father's favorite,
for better or for worse...

Monday, May 3, 2004

Harold Bloom

There he goes again
saying what he does into
the stitches of the spine
where motes and specks
of antique grain makes
him exhort wisdom in
reaches that are beyond the
room or the hallway that leads
so many to the door,

a voice that trembles and
rattles with glottal clicks
and abandonment of tongue
as language roils in sweat stained
back seats where there is
nothing the names of things
in this world to undress,

it's agon again, book of jaybirds
taking flight from the pitch of the
roof where many chimneys bear
witness to ashes of ideas going up
in such billows of smoke that it's
a thought that the sun will never
rise or set on this planet again,

a voice declares that
memory is what we
have when a view is not
part of the scheme,

let's try and remember what
the afternoons and mornings were like
with each fork of food we aim toward our mouth,
let's try to describe the night
and the quality of no light not falling
but rather growing out of the corners
of the city as if it were the blackness
that gives us death, the end of voices,
no memory to give us pause
to be smart and read again

after throat clearings and shuffling of
papers scratched with letter grades,
to come across again
mention of human kind, agency,
the insane mind that will not
obey metaphor nor genuflect to
the crucifix of form,

a world goes hungry
for all the
the tropes contain,

the only things that fill
are pages
of books made of
trees that
are naught but deserts where
nothing we can use lives

let's close this book,
he muses,
let me open another
and another after this
and yet more until
i am full of words
of passion about gods
and their messengers
who are insane
with precision,
undressed in the rain,

all this until
i write another book
to add to a stack
that finds itself
ringed with broader,
tighter kinds of sand
and fruitless dirt.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

all news is local

a woman
from a mid western suburb
turns up missing
when she never
comes home
from the enclosed mall.

news camera men and
reporters angry
with stiff, epoxied hair
stand at the side of a road,
next to an empty field
surrounded by a collapsing
hurricane fence.

it had been raining
and clouds hung
low in the sky, motionless,
menacing an Arco sign
beneath it.

this is where
a ticket stub
and bent
eyeglass frames
were found,
but outside of that,
police are
being quiet
while they conduct
their investigation.

it starts to rain again,
water beads on
the camera lens.

this goes on for
channel after channel,
a panic
in absence of
evidence of a crime,

there is no life
on any of the streets
outside my door.

not through this
on the world.

I turn off the set
and my phone rings.

it’s my sister
saying hi
and then
she says
that my our brother
has been
in the hospital for
six days,
he collapsed, she said,
bad asthma attack,
all those chemicals
he works worth,
she sobs,
the paramedics
incubated him
so quickly
that that they
didn’t get any family information,
the hospital
just called us
at seven tonight,
he looked so
sad and defeated,
I mean,
we should have looked for him,
I mean,

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

About Face

About Face

Striking a pose you've practiced too long
in Toledo as you were thinking of rolls of
butcher paper,

All the same you remain in bed with
yourself and another lover every night,
a date that's guarenteed,

Silk stockings covered with bumper stickers
are draped over the shower rod,

You no longer yawn when friends speak of
grace , glory, deliverence from the centers of
enterprise that stop being useful and instead
become a yearning, roiling rash,

A power contained by no walls
withstanding, instead you feel
fear, a dry blood flowing from
a wound where it feels as though
something had been lifted , a spirit
stolen from you and riden into the
night sky by grotesque fear,

The moon wears a skull mask tonight,

The match trembles, and the pose sours,
the lines around your eyes deepen, ravines
of exhaustion, each fold a rut where a wish
was burie like small change in old purses,

You're alone on the ceramic floor,
telling a joke to a profile,

Imagining low angle shots, a soft filter
over the lens.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Murder Just the Same

It's dicey at best to think that any number of soldiers with tanks guns and goggles are going to settle a
beef that's been going on since before any books were written to justify murder in the name of a power greater than ourselves.

It ends up being murder all the same.

Monday, April 26, 2004

doyle bramhall

one more twist
of the tuning peg
and then this guitar
will be fit for fables
about fortunes
come and gone
while the stratosphere
cracks like sheets of ice
under the sharp notes
the pick coaxes
from strangely
pitched strings.

things get strange
between the city
and the land that
fills up the continent
on your way
to the coast.

sometimes you run out
of women's names
when there are chords
to be hammered into shaped
for a song that will mention
each corroded thing
you've seen between
cities, it's a life of passing
through , war clouds in the sky,
turnpike food around the bend,
every kiss now less
convincing in rhyme
than a sign
reading that
someone would work for food,
it's about getting paid.

rusted cars and
parts of trucks
rest in arid fields
or rust even more
as it rains outside
on a town's main street.

sometimes there
are no Bibles in the
hotel drawers.

the roads
get darker
between towns
that hold their
acres of claimed earth
after the factories close,
desperate and forgotten,
everyweek another family
moves out, another business goes dark,
another song needs
be written.

the last leaves
in autumn that resist
the wind and cold
and stay with the
branch until
they let go without
fanfare or cry,
they let go
and carried on
a wind until the fall
in a gutter
on a street where
neon burns and every working
car is parked,
drunks try to stand in line,
someone from out of town
is jamming tonight.

paintings of products
that have ceased to exist
have their likeness
on the sides of
liquor stores,
promises of eternal joy
faded, chipped and flaking
away as the smoker's
hand holds only
a scuffed brick from the
wall beneath the
fruitless ad,

it all started as a card game
but ended as a scramble
for chips and piles of cash,
car lights swooped over the motel room
walls, a man kicked in the door
and started yelling a woman's
Mary, Mary...
where are you going to?

the voices crack and splinter
on the harmonies,
each tongue clicking on
the syllables that build
on the slurs which bleed
over the chord progressions
that gain momentum
like thrasher machines
in fields chewing up wheat
at the stalk,
drum breaks are the
throb of aching knees,
bass lines the blood
that still pulses and spills,
guitars the fury of a spirit
that cannot fly above the
atmosphere, away from
the brown, mired country,

many homes to pass
before we sleep,
a twist of a lick, BB King style,
someone wakes up
in the backseat, mumbles,
a twist of the knob, impatient,
news fills the car,

we're not home yet.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Imbroglio, Intaglio, Ingress

Let's be pan-and-scan-buddies
to the degree
that we stop traveling
so damned far
and instead BECOME
the point between two alienated orbits.

In novels, characters
walk through many doors,
in and out of many rooms,
often times in a sequence
of inexplicable locales
before any of them discover
what the author was trying to get at.
The weather was said to
be night and morning
low clouds of
wadded typing paper,
followed by continued
grumble storms until
either evening arrives
or the Muse leaves.

In detective stories,
this means getting hit over the head
and coming to later,
finding someone you've never seen before
staring down at you and begging
for to be forgiven for the untidy welcome.
The concussions continue like that
until something gives or the author hears
a strange noise in the kitchen,
which is usually the cat
playing cards with the dog again,
taking him for every bone
he's collected and buried
in holes deep as one
can get before a water line gets punctured.

The two of us ought to be in pictures,
the centerfold of our times, making history
as we walk out of theaters looking bored,
acting as if the staples weren't even there,
coming down the center of the halves we're trying to join.

Thursday, April 22, 2004


I go to shuffle the cards
but instead drop them
to the floor,
the goddamned floor,
gravity beats me again
when my chips
stacked too high
or too low
for even a sneak thief
to steal and cash in
because a drink costs more
than a dime
or any number of
copper-toned Lincolns.

There are so many
poems I wanted
to write about
that special heartache
from so many years ago,
but there are no words
to say
when you arrive in
the middle of the night
with a suit case
full of CDs and
two change of clothes.
He tossed a fast
fist, you say,
you drop your cigarette
to the floor,
the goddamned floor,
and curl on the couch,
sink into the deepest cushion,
every mark and bruise
resembling something like
brutal brush strokes
in the 40 watt light,
I get some sheets
a pillow, a blanket still folded
from when I moved in.

Every poem I would have
written would have
been dedicated
to who and what
used to be here
and only know
I can talk about,
more things
about what might have
been if
the world were less perfect
in the way it absorbs
our conceits and feeds
us to the birds
who'll take us ,
piece by piece,
to the the highest peaks
where we will be scattered
under feather
over the limitless valleys
and ocean hiways,
springing anew
in life that never ends
like the last page of
the story
I thought I was the author of.

I sleep on the floor
as the refrigerator motor
hums in the dark,
your breathing
is lost to the gears
and the clean sheets,
there's nothing to say
in any event,
every sheet of paper is blank,
like the sleep
of criminals
who dream of
clean white halls
without windows or doors,
no one to speak to,
not one voice.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Bad Coffee

Grim Coffee

Ah, he thinks, the glory of sitting around the apartment with a cup of lukewarm coffee, reading contrasting views on the relative worth of Ezra Pound and fascist insults. He grits his teeth, choking
on the brackish aftertaste of the java he tries to sip; tepid now, it's color a dead blackness, foul to the taste on the tip of the abused tongue because the pot was left on the heater for two unattended hours.

Just the way he liked it.

He couldn't read Pound at all, never could, although he might admit to himself that he hardly tried in all the years he thought of himself as a poet and a taste maker. The politics were one thing, and all the
revisionist cant about him being a misguided, deluded romantic with no mind for political thinking does not absolve him of the fact that he endorsed fascism as a preferred method of restoring a population's enthusiasm for wholeness. Doubtless Pound was thinking of coming with a society, a culture that would preserve the rights of the artist to chase avant gard projects, but more than that he desired to have the artist in charge of making public policy. Dangerous stuff, he thought.

Dangerous because just he could politicize and exaggerate and otherwise enthuse that cold, brackish coffee is the living end so far as caffeine consumption goes, so could the poet , the artist, the posing dilettante espouse grievous nonsense and make their machinations seem so, so attractive and worth investing every resource in. World War 2 ought to have settled that notion.

Or maybe it doesn't. Suddenly a car horn blasts from the driveway and the coffee tastes like cold crap
in a cup. He grimaces, a tight, downturned frown. His wife kisses him with this foul taste in his mouth.

What was he and the world thinking?

Saturday, April 17, 2004

MSN Slate Magazine

MSN Slate Magazine



there are minutes
in an afternoon
when all i want to do
is light a match and
toss it over my shoulder,
walk the way,
imagining a glorious
slow motion sunburst
to lift every empty car
in the street
as fumes, flame
and wind lift the
flaps of my long rain coat,
which is awful light
for being bad
of black
badass leather.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Whispering Train

Whispering Train

It's all sweetness when he thinks about leaving through the door he came in through, he made sure his chair was always near the exit sign. The fast way out. Short cut to the sunlight. The glare of artificial lights played crazy music in the nerve ganglias clustered through far reaching convolution of brain activity.

If not sun, though, what? Might there be a building to stare upon, tall enough with enough windows lit and dark for to contemplate intricacies that fall outside his vision's ability to sort and order the flux of what occurs in front of him. Maybe. Outside is a trolly station, and he would weight for a tell tale yellow light coming from up the track, around the bend, past a residential hotel that had been built during world war two that had a large sign on it's roof buring it's name over the street life and tracks under it,"Kensington Arms".

He rested in his seat, put down his coffee cup. Christ, he hated to read his work. Worse yet, he dreaded not being asked to.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

A day without singing is like the sun without an earth to shine on.

Monday, March 8, 2004

A man walks his dog but the dog holds the leash between bottom and upper rows of teeth that know chew toys and biscuits as distinct from the rest of the world contained on these few blocks to the park.

The man lights a cigarette and drops the match in front of the swings at the playground where he sits on a bench, waiting for his dog to find a favored spot to remember in later days when it might be a kingdom for a friendly scent when there is only barking from behind the fences the two of them pass gong to and from the store or some such place near home.

This winter the sun is caught in the bare branches of trees that have surrendered their leaves to the season, the light of the sun is cold on the breath, man walks dog in jerky steps, the dog raises his head and growls, drops the leash from his teeth, a car passes by and a dog in the back seat has head sticking out of the window, yelping against the wind the envelopes his face in a perfect wrap of jet streams pinning his ears to the back of his head,

The man's dog runs after the car, barking and baying along the street lined with snowdrifts and grey, runneld slush, gone into the cold, leash less in the cold gasping for the man's hand and the leash he swings like lariat catching cattle the size of boxcars.