Sunday, July 31, 2005



His faults rise to the surface
     like yellow clumps in buttermilk
          sour growing sweet with the familiarity
               of repetition

Fifty years and he still can’t hear my hint
     how the trash can smells like fish
     why I talk for hours on the phone with grandkids I haven’t seen in months
     that the day has been long and dinner is not started

He’s never taken me to Europe
     or bought a single frivolous gift

He doesn’t understand
     that if he won’t turn his dirty socks right side out, I will have to

I’m sure my own faults are no less cloying
     when I turn the T.V. low
     how I pretend I don’t hear him talk about going camping
     the way I slide to the edge of the bed when his cold foot touches my leg

We were too

I sang his favorite song in the moonlight
He planted roses beneath my window
     We might have lost or gained everything

We raise our glasses and drink
     to the bittersweet
               of love

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Two Great Lit Mags

I have to recommend two lit mags that I just finished reading recently.

Gulf Coast is a thick and dense journal packed with fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. This is one of the best literary magazines I have read. The stories are consistently good, well-written, interesting, and engaging. The poetry is also strong and overall less homogeneous than I have noticed in many other magazines. But what really stood out, to me, is the creative nonfiction. Since I rarely write nonfiction pieces, I generally skim them while reading. Not so with the ones in Gulf Coast. These grabbed me, right from their opening sentences and held me spellbound as well as (or in some cases better than) any short story I have read in recent memory.

In "Timeline: A Memoir," Oona Patrick tells the story of Provincetown (Cape Cod) by tracing the history of the place and her own family in a timeline that is both lyrical and heartbreaking.

Sonja Livingston recounts the experience of being an outsider as a 'paleface' brought to live on an Indian reservation with her half-sister's family in "Ghostbread". She begins: "When you eat soup every night, thoughts of bread get you through."

The Kenyon Review, though slimmer, is by no means less rich. I was astonished at the quality of writing in this magazine. The fiction and poetry was so stunning, some of the pieces literally took my breath away. I'd have to say this journal has now leapt to the very top of my list, both as a place to read outstanding work and as a market to aspire toward.

Alice Hoffman's The Witch of Truro is a gorgeous example of the fine work to be found here. This is writing with an extraordinary level of craftsmanship.

I adore Beth Ann Fennelly's poem "Telling the Gospel Truth." The images and language she creates have stayed with me vividly for weeks now and expanded the possibilities of poetry in my mind.

Here is a tiny excerpt:
Let us start with the stable.
Let it be a real stable, and let Mary be angry
at the filth of it, at dust sifting from the rafters.
Let her grow resigned as cracks of light are grouted by night,
let her grow out of mind
as the invisible fist grabs guts
and twists,
then twists harder,
let her grow scared. Let her try to remember
wading in the sea with her girlfriends, the coarse hem of her skirt in her hands,
the algae fingering her ankles.

Current and past issues of both Gulf Coast and The Kenyon Review are available at their respective websites. If you're looking for some great reading, these are two magazines well worth your time.

Monday, July 25, 2005


We finally got home last night. The cat was still at the kennel. Toys, magazines, bits of mail – oddments of a thousand kinds – lay strewn about from our hurried vacation-exit of two weeks ago. The air was stale and unbreathed. Home felt foreign, oddly exotic for such a familiar place.

It made me think of this poem by Philip Larkin: Home is so Sad.

This morning, the kids play, throwing new toys on top of the old while the cat chases underfoot, uncertain of which direction to fly – toward the chaos or away from it. I look through the cupboards, finding the glasses and plates in all the right places, and know if I closed my eyes I could find my way through the mess as though I had never left. This morning, home is my most comfortable pair of shorts – as loose and easy as sitting on the floor eating the last of the ice cream straight from the tub.

Today, home is a poem by William Carlos Williams: This Is Just To Say.

Friday, July 15, 2005

World's Shortest Personality Test

You are dependable, popular, and observant.
Deep and thoughtful, you are prone to moodiness.
In fact, your emotions tend to influence everything you do.

You are unique, creative, and expressive.
You don't mind waving your freak flag every once and a while.
And lucky for you, most people find your weird ways charming!

Because even goddesses feel insecure...

Aphrodite’s Dilemma

Do you love me?
      I want to be loved for myself,
      not just because I’m a goddess,
      fairest of all creation.

Why do you love me?
      I need to know what drew you here.
      I bet it was my golden hair, the way
      it shimmer-shines a thousand suns. Or maybe
      my flawless face, more perfect than the arch
      of Athena’s eyebrow raised in pensive contemplation.

What makes you want me?
      Your passion springs forth at the sight
      of my firm, upturned breasts. Yes. It does.
      But then I notice you can’t keep your fingers
      from the golden girdle that encircles my fecund
      waist with a god’s jealous magic.

You want me because I’m beautiful, right?
      I know you think I’m beautiful. I am the goddess of love, after all.
      I know you want me. You leave offerings on my temple steps
      of incense, pomegranates, doves. You risk the wrath of Hephaestos
      to lie in my bed. I’m sure you’re not doing this
      to gain bragging rights, to boast of bagging
      the greatest beauty of all time.

You do think I’m beautiful, don’t you?

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

On vacation

The pneumonia is gone just in time for our vacation!

I'm in the midst of two positively lazy weeks in Idaho, my favorite place in the whole world. We lived in several different places when I was growing up - West Virginia, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, California - but Idaho is the one I consider home. I love the high desert landscape of wide open blue skies hanging over grassland fringed with the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The air is dry and hot here in summer (102 degrees yesterday!), but there is shade in Boise's many parks, plenty of museums to visit, and you can always float the river on an inner tube to cool off.

Though we won't make it there this trip, the Teton Mountains are absolutely spectacular.

McCall, situated on Payette Lake, is a boating, hiking, and in the winter, skiing, mecca for the state.

Of course, everyone knows the glitterati have moved in and taken over Sun Valley, the country's premiere ski resort, but it's still beautiful scenery.

Hopefully the weather is going to cool down just a little so we can go do some outdoor things. The girls want to go rockhunting (Idaho is the Gem State, after all), and Emma is going to learn to fish. There are also the standard trips to the Zoo, Botanical Garden, and Science Museum.

I'll try to send a postcard or two. See you soon.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

NOÖ Journal

The first issue of NOÖ Journal is now available free to those in northern California and southern Oregon. If you're not lucky enough to live close to NOÖ, you can order a copy or read it online.

My poem Twice in a Blue Moon appears, as does work by Dave Clapper, Braxton Younts, Joseph Young, Daphne Buter, and many other fine writers.

Take a few minutes to read and comment on these great pieces.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Ninth Letter

While I've been sick and unable to do anything but lay around, I've had the chance to read some of the lit mags stacked beside my bed. Here's one that really sticks in my mind:

At 11 1/2 by 9 inches, Ninth Letter is the biggest literary magazine I've ever seen. This thing has heft in your hands, an anticipation of real substance in its full-color pages and thick paper. Overall, the content does not disappoint.

Ninth Letter is all about experimentation, both in the writing itself and in its presentation. As the editor's note at the beginning of this issue (Volume One, Number Two) states: "Our mission above all is to refuse to succumb to the comfort of an established, test-driven format or to confine ourselves to a single definition of literature."

With a nonfiction piece presented only on microfiche (Ander Monson's Failure: Another Iteration), a short story covering four fold-out pages that must be followed via a collage of numbered paragraphs (Roy Kesey's Fontanel), a pull-out poster, the incorporation of illustrations on neary every page, and a very generous use of white space throughout, there is no doubt that this magazine has succeeded in its goal of stretching the boundaries of format.

The content is equally challenging, with stories and poems that play with our ideas of just what literature is. For the most part, the poems are narrative in nature, ranging from stories about a girl who loves a fish and a black family's journey out of the South (The Girl Who Loved a Fish, An African Folktale;Traveler by Janice N. Harrington), to a poet's thoughts in those uncertain moments while a loved one is in surgery (Waiting for My Foot to Ring by Bob Hicok), to scenes from not-so-beautiful lives (My Cousin;Terra Firma by Amy Lingafelter).

Of the stories, two have stayed with me since reading this magazine. The first is Marguerite's Cat by John Haskell, a strange tale about straddling the divide between two worlds, the world of death and the world of life. This is the kind of story that is less story and more question - questions about living with the knowledge of death, about keeping your feet in this world when your head is in the other one. I can't say it was satisfying, in terms of a traditional narrative, because there's no real beginning, middle, and end as such, but I can't shake the images of this story and the things it has made me consider.

The second story is Roy Kesey's Fontanel. I'll admit, at first I was a bit annoyed at the format, having to piece together the story by following winding arrows from one section of the collage to the next. By the time I got to the fifth paragraph, however, ("This is the gas station attendant who is friendly and serviceable and pretends not to notice the wife's screams.") I was hooked and couldn't read on fast enough. This story of a birth, from beginning to end, including side-stories on many of the actors (the cab driver, doctor, nurse, anesthesiologist) is incredibly vivid and the voice is irresistible. There is also a huge sense of tension, mounting ever higher as the story goes on. This is one piece that will be with me for a long time.

Ron Carlson's nonfiction piece Oh America is presented on a pull-out poster designed like an American flag and gives a bittersweet, wry, and sarcastic (yes, all at once) look at our country today. This piece made me want to stand up and cheer for Carlson's eloquence and humor, while at the same time I felt like laying down and crying for the truth of his message.

As with any lit mag, I did not like all of the stories and essays in Ninth Letter. A few seemed contrived, just plain boring or pointless, or simply mundane. Some of the poems bordered on pretentious (though not nearly as many as in other lit mags I've read) and obscure.

Ninth Letter is experimental - some of the experiments work and some don't, but this magazine is so fresh and original, I will definitely be picking up another copy. You might want to get your hands on one too.