Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Plato's Walk-In

In front of things adorning the lawns of our town, I abjure to squint of cranes and deers, jockeys with faces white as the walls of empty gallery stoic as they are in their enameled resolve,

Not here or there nor on any brush in sight can relief be spelled in a flick of the wrist , a motion that captures the tone and twist of a minute in this day when all the frustrations seemed they might just dissolve like thin sheets of sugar under warm tap water and just wash away, there is not a gesture that lets me to release things short of releasing all fingers from around the neck of the idea that is old, inert, unable to be redefined or made new by new paint on old boards.

The doors of the houses are wide open , dogs whimper and yelp their routine protest about weekends in the back of the truck,

It's broad daylight, the sunlight is spread like miles of smiling bed covers over the happenstance of my moods in this moment, the newsboy pitches the paper to the roof,


It's business as usual, a full schedule of things to do or lie about doing.

Should I continue with my walk to the beach in a constricted stride, suffering the thoughts of phone calls that seemed to be about everything that was never said until the night past and hysteria goes back to sleep, my mind seems a cave with deep, slurred echoes of what we talked about, the impossibility of the desire, the attraction to fires, bright lights at the end of cigarettes?

Damn these animals and doors, damn this daylight, damn the world and it's orderly progression.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Car Wash

there's a last chance for love
in each sigh you make
watching your car get dragged
through the car wash, sudsy and wet,

but even as breath escapes through
your nose and a sad whistle comes
through your teeth, a homeless man
hands you dollar, and you drop it
as he turns, it's filthy and creased,

your car is shiny as a new penny
in the glistening and buffing that
makes machines gleam with
sex and torque after hours,
thank you, you sigh, I'll park my own car,

the homeless man is out in front
of the wash,he pushes his cart
full of cans and newspaper wrapping
into the alley, he drops a dollar in the street,
he is in love with the Wendy's senior cheeseburger,

you get in your shiny car
while the city awaits your arrival,
everyone you wanted to see you
behind this wheel are eating dinner at home
or are dead before you could brag,

and the homeless guy just gives away
his money,

so no one right at this minute
really gives a shit

what it is your driving
when there is still
the boss's work to be done,

goddamn it,
you say.

Friday, June 4, 2004

Closing Time.

The lights dim, they go off, the room goes dark, in fact, and there is a hurry to grab items from store shelves, unexamined, for purchase lest one leave a store at closing without a purchase on the good life.

What life would that be, and what is the sales tax? Do frequent buyers receive a discount for the chances they took with the pennies they saved? So many hands grabbing magazines or packs of cigarettes before all are gone, out the door, absorbed by a dark winter twilight.

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.