(To Balthazar)

I’m here, writing about dust, next to my dog, dying on the floor,
About dust because instinctively we know it’s not one thing but an accumulation of things.

Things unattended – and how we wish in retrospect we had attended –
Things lost, and how we wonder that we lost them

Not to mention the particles of all denizens that have dwelt here – invaders and owners, predators, prey, alike – the hairs and mites of flies, the bits, flakes, body parts of beings, disintegrated leavings of loves, life-death carnages, growings – all co-mingling charged and bonding in hoary fabric.

Balthazar in the fore, at Case Wetlands, IN

Balthazar in the fore, at Case Wetlands, IN

His name is Balthazar. And I think: for a long time after his life, bits of this same settling hoar will still be his. How will I wipe it then?

I wasn’t just sitting here next to him all day – though that was my intention,
you know, the perfect plan one envisions then fails to inhabit.
I was cleaning. Cleaning signs of neglect, of not caring enough, of ineptitude.

I remember when he was more alive dusting off my keyboard.
Years since I’d written music on it
months since I’d set it up
weeks since I’d had the thought to sit down, turn it on. 
Fondness on a damp rag, I stroked each key less dim.

What is this feeling? You reach into the dusty haze to pull back a thing bright, a rescued reborn smiling with potential. 
Bent over the keyboard I sat with – as Buddhists say – the feeling:
Reclaiming, restoring. 
But also: I set you free (from some foreboding bondage).

Dusting has the power to burnish the tawdry to a fine ideal or bring gauzy memory to life till you can hear its crisp breathing.

Now wiping a path across the harpsichord’s back, how it shines.
As this moist swipe clears the swath control and anxious yearning blur
that ephemeral instant 
when power on an inhale turns to yearning’s exhale –
where you have ever lived 
reaching for the next dust rag swipe.

sat with the feeling of dusting,
Creative, willful like the heaving adolescent burn of being with a forbidden man
Like the baby switching a toggled light, on, off; on, off, just to know the Godness of it.

To exert some action on the design of things
To merge the world with my vision!

Cleaning dust
You sweep away decrepitude
You move from the defeat of having “let things go”
the suffocation of collection, the pile-on that overwhelms, gathering, gathering.

How soothing it becomes to see
this decrepitude is something added on (not taken away)
and can simply be erased.

Perhaps you think you can carry that miracle from materials that will outlive us all to dress this wound.

Death and dust are old friends
so here they hang together sipping time.


Wild Child

And here comes,
all sinew pistons firing,
the wild child

bounding till concrete meet feet

before the overshot door
careening momentum
back first
black ribs down

power paw grips
the arc
to catch a carpet
dig and right
and just for glory
the alpha

Olympic skater
glide the kitchen floor

he positions
aspiring eyes
for food.


For this little experiment, I want to thank Gary McDowell, instructor of a 3-week workshop on lyric prose offered by the Porch Writers’ Collective in Nashville, for inspiration and guidance. McDowell teaches at Belmont University here in Nashville and has written two wonderful books of poetry. His latest foray into the prose poem, “How to Cope with Risk,” came out this summer in the Massachusetts Review.

Ultimate Coffee Quest

In coffee, the French press was once the state of imported art, before coffee houses – or the Dunkin’ Donuts rage (and not counting Cuban coffee, a potent, thick espresso you could get from a food truck in Miami). Then, ma and pa started coffee shops. Someone had convinced these progressive entrepreneurs to invest in expensive machines marketed with talk of bean savvy, roast expertise, “old countries,” and home grown care. And espresso was born in America, Pete’s and Starbucks, selling not only espresso, but the ultimate beans, treasure hunted amongst Peruvian shamans who led llama expeditions to the plateau of the micro-climate that, etc. And you could be educated by someone standing near a big roasting machine about right temperatures and successive roastings and tastings – the age of micro-coffees.

Throughout these changes, the aficionado could sit with French press and a few essentials – the measured, stainless steel stirring spoon, for example – and there in this dawn ritual, commune with eternity.

As America’s “productivity” numbers climbed, this ritual morphed into multi-tasking to the comforting tune of precise, punctured automation, in pre-prepared units that sound like salt shakers and look like creamers from a diner. Or Denny’s.

If you want to be an “early adopter” or even stay up with the times, have an open mind. Try new things because, for example, what if there is a more quintessential cup of coffee out there than the quintessential one enjoyed today…

Note to self: There are always new ways to make coffee.

… and you’ll be sure to get word that there is now some newer way to fully render for your taste buds the experience of freshly ground coffee under your nose – no, really, that same rush, only across your tongue.

Recently, I learned about a method “even better” than French press and decided not to try it. Because I’m now practicing the art of pick one thing and stick with it – something I have never done. Most of my homes have ended up as rentals in far-off states.

Housing Markets

In Rhode Island, houses are moving, but appreciation is slow. Rents, however, are soaring, far exceeding mortgages. In Terre Haute, there is new life everywhere. Once abandonded buildings shine with investment, houses painted the color of second mortgages, yards sculpted like odd jobbers with food on the table. I had once written of the Hautian obsession with the infestation of crows, back when the buildings were latchkey and the elderly broken. And now! Like life after a forest fire, green shoots everywhere. But home appreciation lags. In Nashville, it’s a boom! The quick turnaround, the climbing values, the development… depending on the area. Everywhere is expanding. And values rising, depending on the neighborhood.

Black eye

I caught you in the middle of disappearing. Your black eye so surprising, its old velvet called up from the newly concrete sidewalk, sun white and dazzling. As lawncare mistings lisped about small patches of grass tucked between hostas, over which I assume you presided. Once. It was also your tiny broken appendages, so unruly in their decomposition. So not. Planned, man-carried. So far from the sweat and heat, the squared off boxes of imposed form and great machined churn of cement. You are round, soft as a flower’s heart, dead, and somewhere in your recent history, as the center flew apart, you just leapt, breaking, into the arms of wind.

Black-Eyed Susan

Competitive with other plants, black-eyed Susan grows in just about any kind of soil. She is the “pioneer.” After the construction trucks have pulverized field and grove, the first denizen to pop her head in living color above the bleak will be black-eyed Susan. For the two years of her life, she will dance and smile and offer shelter for the leopard slug as well as the garden centipede. And countless pollenators will love her.

Walking Meditation

Sinking into the dark night of the soul is as easy as turning a corner. You are in a sunlit day, white heat loving the chill from your bones, and the pavement so sure, a ground under your stockinged feet. Perhaps you didn’t plan to walk so far – just going out for a warmer, a break of wild from all that human “community,” and then it drew you – the brilliant day, and the internal pound of stockinged feet meeting surety, and warm. Then you turn the corner. It’s an alley, say. And you feel you are committed by the time the dogs run at their fence barking their chops a few feet from your hips, and the asphalt is a crumble of sad, sand-filled cracks, and wet silt wadis of rainwash sink their damp through socks and feet. Further on, the sun don’t shine, the smell of besotted, week-old fast food, and the clutter of sparrows carping at the spillage from side turned, gashed plastic bags. You are thinking this is not the Inferno, or even Purgatorio, just a case of “a few of my unfavorite things, “ like pre-planned coffee, with a judge always referencing, and humanly subjective.
Until a quite tangible bump on the head, a sharp creech almost simultaneous, but recollected separately, sends the fight or flight along your vegus, like a phone message in a line. (A hard-fought message, hard won lines, interruptive as they were wonderful. The green shoots of the world sprung along those lines. Competition after all.) And after the bump, I followed the still-angry sound, saw some kind of fat, spiteful jay rise past my eyes to perch, turn and jeer, its little tail flipping me off as it peered down menace from a very near strung wire.

Action separated from cause

The use of asphalt rather than Portland cement on a civil road project is more likely to be dictated by the vested interests of the agencies responsible for the projects, and not by practical factors such as cost, speed of implementation, durability of material. In other words, values are not argued, consensus definitions not applied. How soon will we do it again is never weighed against how comfortable the ride. And whether the road will be carrying more traffic and load (highways) or receiving more cornering (streets) is considered on paper, but disregarded in the handshake room. Asphalt is a petroleum product – around 60% of it at least, depending. Cheaper and more flexible than concrete, easier to repair but more often to be repaired. In fact, the roads you drive on as you travel from city to city in the summer, are a gnarled, networked cluster of it depends. Cement, the main ingredient of concrete, is a product – to the tune of 2.5 or 6 billion tons, rather British tonnes – of extreme high temperatures, with a massive carbon footprint, its production plants prime guzzlers of energy for the process of drying, not to mention the “releases of unintentionally produced POPs such as the by-products from wet chemical and thermal processes, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins/-furans (PCDD/Fs) as well as HCB and PCBs” that international environmental conferences worry about. Less than one part per billion of dioxins and furans is the gold standard. Which sounds to me like 2.5 or 6 tons of toxin poured into the atmosphere per year for the benefit of concrete. And concrete can be, depending, more expensive than asphalt – depending on the price of petroleum, the ratios of the mixtures, and whether you factor longevity into the estimate. Asphalt is the tarring and feathering of rock – or concrete, depending. In Phoenix, they have been experimenting with an asphalt made of used, shredded tires. If you call 30 years of practice an experiment. And they are loving it because, despite the expense of collecting and shredding all those tires, taken on by the city (plus the stigma of being environmental in the state of Arizona), it solves the previously longstanding blight of tire refuse and lasts for over 30 years.

Slants on green

O skewy Sun,
this thicket web shred and gauze
cling dead filigree
cranes to you from past longings
while you reflect on green

your glance daubs a lighted smorgasbord:
spoon, cup and skewer
silver, white and glint
slope, dash, swoosh
dull and twinkle
so much green meat and marrow
you membrane, opalescent and vein

With you at my back
in the clear over a rainbow of stark glintless greens
tiny insects fly.

Moods of Bees

Moods of Bees

From design ecologist Jennifer Berry's website: jrobinberry.com

From design ecologist Jennifer Berry’s website: jrobinberry.com

A hazed sun
lights 6 a.m.
bees in tens of flight paths
circling homeward, work done
afield, where yesterday

from some encircling blade
and too close fresh grass cries still crazed
they thorned out
to track black shirt and dog gone a step too far
and say
with exclamation point
no more!

But now,
nectar weaves the air
the southward facing wall above their door
with inebriated blots
those bees, like those who fill the streets along open beachside bars
when air smells of spring break,
just before the carousing hour.

After the Rain

After the rain

Photo "After the Rain" by Squirrelgirl on deviantart.com

Photo “After the Rain” by Squirrelgirl111 on deviantart.com

The kestrel is a little bold today
sailing low and cry to perch high and prey
trumpeting a roost
long obscured in altitude

Below, flutes flower wilted tunes
buds, their spring pomposity
shooting stalks, their arrogance for growth
sensitized and fell,
bowing brooms that sweep the earth

this knowing
the weight of water hangs the day
that angry fists thundering the sky
can drive away
and sun forsake

The sharp edge of endless

From thecreativecat.net

From thecreativecat.net

The sharp edge of endless

A sudden visitor, so near
tapping out its world
black dashed joints
of legs like blind canes,
something unseen finds.
Eight parts poise on air or cloth or hair
while two rub, groom, or chew
the sight of clacking.

What find you there, or smell or feel
so dust
that human touch chutes you down
speedy gravity
to scurry aground?

What life to move through air and earth
the constant change of space for hard
of air for teem
of free for bars of barb and blade
of jungle, prey, danger
for flight, light, and glide?

You hear, receive, the sharp edge of endless

know its twitch
as breeze,

its leading foot light in waltz
as wind

its buoyant tarantella spin
as buffeting
best not brave in

its feeding full embrace

you greet it slight
it takes you far.

On the use of Puppetry in Phantom Limb’s Memory Rings

The Phantom Limb Company mounted their world premiere of Memory Rings, a reflection on man’s history and presence with nature, at Oz Arts Nashville. I reviewed the production earlier, But being a puppet fan, I had to give the puppets a separate post all to themselves.

Costumes and puppets from Memory Rings

Costumes and puppets from Memory Rings

Eric Sanko’s puppets, so graceful in curve and joint, pull us into Memory Rings with the slow stuff of mesmerism. For the actors, they function as simulacra, not just by being dressed like their puppeteers, but by being fashioned in the masters’ images, down to their pop-out ears or other prominent features. The animism inherent in puppetry, where one thing is imbued with the animus of another, makes room for the concept of gods and beautifully recalls atavistic notions fueling fairy tales and religions – that spirits dwell in trees, water, air.

In Memory Rings, the puppet seems to be having the experience while the human – face covered, black-clad, barely visible through green conifer fronds or animal costume – is like a guide from a realm less tangible. But even as animistic god, the human appears very much controlled by the puppet.

The “eye,” the experiencer, jumps bodies in this way. Our world is a world of projections, as Plato told us, and as well, we humans are able to project ourselves into things – and this is the play space of Phantom Limb’s marionettes.

And in that play space, what powerful use of theatrical elements – even to the cedar scented air that marks Gilgamesh’s destruction of the trees! Only accomplished artists sharing deep synergy can acheive this. Lighting often puts the center-stage tree on a different frequency from man, beast, or sprite – for example, the tawny warmth of overhead cans contrasting the cold blue-white beams of miners lamps. When these several separate beams, emanating from the heads of actors and marionettes alike, cleverly spotlight individuals and actions, they imitate the small, pixilated pokings we mere individuals can know of the vast world. We are reminded how small a view we have without connecting to the whole.

Memory Rings – Phantom Limb Company at Oz Arts Nashville

Eric Sanko's Marionettes - Phantom Limb

Eric Sanko’s Marionettes – Phantom Limb

The legendary Gilgamesh sets off to slay the god of the cedar forest. His tale is the launch point for the Phantom Limb company’s Memory Rings, a theatrical dance or silent play, viewer’s choice – and the Oz Arts venue’s very first world premiere. (Kudos to Oz Arts.)

In the interstices of the Gilgamesh tale, Wonderland-ish humans and their similarly dressed homunculi (waist-high marionettes) interact with the animals of the woods, the characters in familiar Western fairy tales, and the natural elements. On stage, the central “character,” is an expression of the 5000 year-old California bristlecone pine known as the Methuselah tree, constructed from feathery bark bits before our eyes. Its marrow, represented by ascending twines that draw the gaze upwards, echoes the strings of marionettes – what “creator” or animator is there at the heart of the tree’s strings?

According to Jessica Grindstaff’s director’s notes, “Memory Rings – the story of humans living in an alternately charmed and adversarial relation to the natural world – asks us to stop, look and listen.”

To aid us, this gentle production often depicts violence in its aftermath, and always in slow, dream-like sequences, that put emotion rather than action center frame.

The wolf (costumed actor) eating (marionette) Little Red Riding Hood, the (marionette) woodsman (feather cap and all!) eviscerating the wolf – these acts do not punch us with adrenaline peaks, and yet they are so beautifully painful to watch. Even in the most dramatic violence, the Gilgamesh marionette destroys the cedar forest as if embodying some dark but heavy force, perhaps even pensive, as if engrossed in evil-genius curiosity. The harshness of violence is displaced into other theatrical elements, sharp blade-on-grinder sound and projections of buffeted pines.

Memory Rings – Work In Progress from Phantom Limb Company on Vimeo.

What sets this destructive fate into motion is the deadly combination of hubris and fear. When Gilgamesh witnesses dead bodies (and body parts) flowing down a river they augur his own mortality. The company uses a recurrent visual theme in depicting the floating carnage, prone bodies inching on their backs across the stage, their propulsion imperceptible. The soundtrack of water lapping and the visual projection on a rear wall of emanating water rings make the bodies – in white leotards striated with black lines suggestive both of waves and bark rings – appear to be rolling along a river. Woven throughout the show, the motif of prone bodies in slow movement is underscored by a lack of human voices, and we, like Gilgamesh, are reminded of mortality.

The floating arm and leg, the ring of wood cut from a huge tree that serves as a floor, resonate with the company’s name. The phantom limb comes in the silence after the violence, as a ghost, a psychological remnant, real only to the experiencer. As the pace of action slows intellect down to the frequency of feeling, this production bares the loss as opposed to the losing.

In the woodland creatures and fairy tales, set to a soundtrack of live-recorded birds, we recognize the dangers of predation inherent in the natural world, one of our most primal, fear-evoking discoveries. Will we respond with hubris, fear, or is there a “more connected” alternative?

Costumes and puppets from Memory Rings

Costumes and puppets from Memory Rings

We see this “middle way” in a motif of caring, of respect, perhaps evocative of the ritual respect of spiritual traditions. Beyond the visual caring of cradling the marionette, there’s also the technical need for care in keeping the strings free and untangled and each puppet echoing its human in movement. At a later point, humans take up the animal heads, masks, and costumes that have been heaped in a pile like rubble, and embrace them.  Perhaps the puppets are vessels for the good stewardship of man. At the end, the humans must carry the puppets off stage. With ginger embrace, they struggle to give support as the puppets fall and spill lifelessly over their arms, as if the art of puppetry is lost. Whether this care for other creatures is care for our own projections, or a more altruistic care that comes from connection or unity, that is a question to be put to all gods.

The program notes quote a passage from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land – “the dead tree gives no shelter…” ending with the line, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” This production takes you into the dust.