Monday, April 30, 2007


Bushes Share Glimpse of Oval Office Rug to Ease Suffering

In an effort to share the cheer and to alleviate the suffering of their fellow Americans, Laura and George Bush have offered this image of the Oval Office rug.

"Ya can't help but feel better when you look at this little guy," said Mr. Bush as he gazed at the floor. He added that he has "looked into his soul" and found it to be akin to his own.

"They say if ya wanna feel better, do somethin' for somebody else," added Mr. Bush. "I feel better already. Free as a bird, 'smatterafact."

Friday, April 27, 2007


Gotta Have a Dream

He'll be here shortly after one: Daniel, the 20-something little Down's syndrome guy, who makes a second home here. He'll just have gotten off his job at the general store down the street, and he'll be here to do his research--he pores over books on the Middle East in pursuit of his dream.

Daniel's driven. He wants to capture Osama bin Laden. He emails the Bush Administration regularly with the insights gleaned from the long lists he makes, the timelines he creates. He'll sit in the periodicals room with his police scanner making an occasional squawk while he makes voluminous notes on the history of nearly everything.

When he takes a break, he approaches the circulation desk. "I'm gettin' interested in Viet Nam," he'll say in a hush-hush, conspiratorial tone. He'll point at some event in Viet Nam that took place in 1957, the year of Osama's birth. There may be a connection, he implies.

"I don't think that Osama had anything going with Viet Nam," I'll say, "Osama was just a kid then," and Daniel will half-believe me, unwilling to let a new connection go, especially on a comment made by someone who voted for Kerry.

Daniel's very loyal to George W. Bush, another frequent recipient of his emails. He likes that Bush is a Christian, (or claims to be). To be a Christian is to oppose gay marriage, of course. It's also good to go to the South with his Baptist church and to help to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, which Daniel did, although the heat and humidity landed him in the hospital with an illness that he can't find the words to name.

Our town is one of the most progressive in the area. I have no need of a closet here, and many patrons burst through the door to share news of their demonstrations on the Statehouse lawn or a petition I might want to sign. Daniel doesn't have a lot of company for discussing his affection for George Bush. Lately he's been acknowledging that the adventure in Iraq isn't all it's cracked up to be. But as Christians, he insists, we should forgive Dubya.

"Well, yes," I say, "but I don't believe the man has apologized." Daniel gives me one of his sly-sheepish looks, as if I'm subsisting on mere technicalities.

There are two notes on the computer at the circulation desk: "Did you remember to hit Escape?" so that we don't check Daniel's books out on Mrs. Olsen's record, and "The Patron always comes first." We're probably better at observing the latter admonition, although Daniel is someone to be shared. Since he only wants to talk about George Bush, Osama bin Laden, and God, there is a certain burn-out factor to be dealt with. We take our turns with Daniel.

I'm not sure how Daniel can actually assist in the capture of Osama bin Laden from his chair in the public library. I guess he wants to call the shots from here. My office-mate Lisa wonders if at some point the Secret Service will burst through the door to get a look at Dubya's frequent correspondent, who has recently taken him to task on some of his better-known blunders in the Iraq war. Daniel's read all the war books, including those with titles like Hubris and The Greatest Story Ever Sold. They have taken something from Daniel's defense of Dubya, but certainly not his love.

Sometimes I lose my patience with his Bush obsession. "I don't consider Bush a real Christian," I'll say crossly. "You wouldn't find him down in New Orleans helping like you did," I'll add. Daniel can be a little upset, but he still wants to hug me goodbye when his mom comes to pick him up at the end of the day. He seems to find me the huggiest person on the staff.

Go figure. But then, I love him, too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


Laura, George Claim Commanding Lead in Suffering Derby

According to First Lady Laura Bush, she and "their President" suffer from the Iraq war more than anyone, and she offered to take on anyone who said otherwise.

"Don't mess with her when she gets That Look," said a source close to the Bush family. "She honestly doesn't think that other people have feelings. The very idea makes her furious."

Mrs. Bush has entered the president and herself in the Oppression Derby, a contest that awards pain and suffering points to participants in various cataclysms. Although the two failed to muster a competitive score in the Hurricane Katrina event because they had not spent time in the Superdome, Mrs. Bush is confident that they will take the lead in the Iraq war. "You get extra points for starting it, don't you? Especially if you get caught in a lie about it, I'd think."

Mrs. Bush pooh-poohs the idea that families of injured soldiers or the soldiers themselves have any standing in the current competition. "They don't know what it's like to duck funerals, pay contractors, and fire U.S. attorneys while you're ineptly conducting a war against innocent people," she points out. In addition, Mrs. Bush suffers from the heartbreak of psoriasis, another point-gainer for the overall team score.

"We ought to have this contest wrapped up before January of '09," she has told friends.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Bush and Gonzales Plunge into De Nile

President Bush joined Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in de Nile today, declaring stoutly to Gonzales's critics, "He's gonna stay.

"'Berto is the perfect A.G. for me," Bush continued. "He's a slippery, yet ultimately mediocre mind. If he was all that great, I can tell you he wouldn't be working for me."

"What I love about the president is his loyalty to his homies," Gonzales gushed as he treaded water. "I mean, Rummy nearly wrecked the military, but did the boss bail on him for political advantage? Well, I guess he did finally, but it took a whole Congressional election to get him to move him. If we hadn't taken such a thumping in '06, he'd still be here. That's what I call loyalty. Comfort is more important than competence, and the Prez and his homies are about comfort."

"We'll leave all the heavy-duty liftin' and lyin' to the Vice-Prez," said Bush as he spat water on Gonzales. "Let's just you and me have a real good time."

Friday, April 20, 2007


Alberto Gonzales Glimpsed Swimming in de Nile

While administration officials discussed their disappointment in the recent testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Gonzales was spotted swimming fully clothed in the Nile.

"I would resign if I felt that I couldn't be effective in my department," the embattled A.G. told subordinates who stood holding towels on shore.

Administration officials felt differently. "We do not think that Mr. Gonzales has the skills to continue here at Justice," said an aide close to President Bush. "We expected a more fluid and creative lying style from someone with legal experience. 'I don't recall' isn't worthy of someone of the attorney general's stature. We expect an entire, parallel universe to be created before a Senate Committee, not a simple case of absent-mindedness."

Gonzales, treading the water of de Nile, disagreed. "President Reagan didn't remember a thing, and everybody loved him," he said, referring to the former president's testimony during the Iran-Contra hearings. "Nobody questioned his inability to recall whole chunks of his administration."

"President Reagan did not have a legal background," said the aide firmly. "The rest we attributed to the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Mr. Gonzales has no such excuse. He is a lousy liar, a pathetic prevaricator, and a mediocre misrepresentor. Clearly, it's time for some new blood in Justice."

Mr. Gonzales, busy with pulling the leeches from his suit, had no additional comment.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I't s a Great Day for Philip Larkin

I've been posting poems mostly of living poets on the principle that our culture seems to favor dead, white males over other worthies. However, this month-long salute to poetry would be incomplete without Brit poet Philip Larkin's tidy little classic.

This Be the Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Monday, April 16, 2007


National Poetry Month: Another from Irene McKinney

(Now that I have your attention...)
Here's another from the wonderful Irene Mc Kinney, marking the move from the joy and innocence of the body to the attempt to transmit fear of it. It's also, I think, about the birth of the poet. It's from Irene's book, Vivid Companion.

Covering Up

When I saw that I would have breasts
and that they wanted me to cover them up
I took my shirt off and tied it around my waist
and stomped out into the yard.

I was so furious that no one stopped me;
not my mother, who thought that I was acting crazy,
not my father, out working in the hayfield,
not my brother, who thought that it was a game,

not my sister, who thought that I was acting out,
who thought I was crazy. I was crazy.
For three days I stalked around and stomped,
refusing to wear a shirt. They all said,

"Cover up," and to cover up made me feel weak.
I wasn't weak. I was damned if I'd pretend,
I was damned. They were two badges on my chest,
each of them saying, "This is me."

First the nipples plumped up and turned
from pink to dusky rose.
They were two eyes seeing things
my other eyes couldn't see.

Then they rounded out and ached.
They wondered what was going on,
getting ready for the long story:
nursing mouths, kisses, suckles.

Later, I would stand in the bathroom
with my arms raised painfully
while my husband wrapped a wet towel
tightly around them to bring down the swelling

of too much milk. Later, I would stand
at the lingerie counter and choose a black
lace bra. Later, I would change back
to white cotton. Later, I would burn them.

But that week, when I was thirteen,
I wanted it to be solved. I wanted it to be over.
I took a hoe from the shed and stood bare breasted
outside and beat the hoe to splinters

on the trunk of the maple. I knew it wasn't over,
but I was exhausted. I would have to enjoy
not covering up in secret. That's when
I began to speak in my head as the naked one,

and the other went clothed into the world.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


They're All Mine: Team America

I don't know how it is in your neck of the woods, but here in New England baseball cards are part of a big bidness. I went into my local store Triple Play yesterday after the climate thingy, and look what I found!

Yep, you guessed it: most of the disgraced players from the Honky Sox Scandal of 2007! And in pretty good condition, too! The price? They were a virtual steal!

I don't know where I'm going to get the 'Berto Gonzales that will complete the set, but hey. I've come this far. I figure old Berto will turn up in good time. Given what's about to happen to him, he's probably going to cost a little more. I don't know if there's a "League of Her Own" Harriet Miers on the market, but I'm going to keep an eye out.

Too bad impeachment isn't gonna happen; I could flip these three for, say, triple what I paid. That's the American way. I'm probably just gonna have to wait for them all to croak to make my bundle. Hope I outlive 'em. Hope you outlive 'em, too.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


Steppin' It Up for Climate Action

Did you get out to any of the Step It Up actions today?

I hauled my semi-comatose self out because I thought it was important to show up. I probably haven't gotten over the foiled DC journey and need to get some civic ya-yas out.

The turnout on the Dartmouth Green was not dazzling, though it had a certain hometown charm.

Bernie Sanders told us about legislation that he and Barbara Boxer are co-sponsoring in the Senate. He pointed out what old Thomas Friedman was pushing on Living on Earth the other night: that green industries will not only help to reduce emissions, but will provide new businesses and loads of jobs. Of course, we'd better teach our kids to do something besides take tests well if we want to solve the problems that reducing emissions will raise.

Little kids sported pretty blue planet balloons. A fine blues band distracted us from the cold. Dartmouth's Big Green Bus, which runs on biofuels, hauled people around.

I was disappointed in the small turnout, but the weather was pretty chilly. There were several small gatherings around the state. We probably should have bunched up more. Bernie was running from event to event to lend his support and ideas. Of course, when I look at our current congressional delegation, I know that what Vermonters do well is to elect people who will push for the needed legislation.

A contingent of artists dressed up as polar bears. I don't want to live in a world without artists. Lots of artists.

I probably should have stayed home and done my taxes, but I've been so pissed off about what my taxes are being spent on. This event was good, if shivery, therapy. We need to push for leaders who will spend our money well. As Dubya has amply shown, for all his anti-tax rhetoric, leaders will always spend our money on something.

How about we spend it on saving the planet?

Friday, April 13, 2007


Rove's Emails Join Early Rapture Contingent

Though most Americans are unaware of it, Karl Rove's four years of emails departed early in April as part of an early-call rapture group.
"The chance came up for us all to go," Rove told White House insiders. "I'm still working on creating a permanent Republican majority, but I told the emails that they'd be better off out of the sphere."
The opportunity arose because the leaders of the current administration have been given Rapture Gold cards. These cards will help to extricate them from whatever awkward political situations arise as their pecadellos become better known.
Former Congressman Tom DeLay asked to be allowed to accompany them. "The firm, perky breasts of the young ladies being taken up are wasted on emails," he insisted. "They need the appreciation of a genuine, persecuted Christian male."
DeLay is not expected to depart any time soon. He has been left behind to shred unsold copies of his book into garden mulch.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


Whooooo Can It Be?

O, dear... now those upright Republicans in the White House have lost lots of emails... just accidentally erased from the hard drives of those laptops the Republican National Committee gave them!

I certainly pity these accident-prone members of the administration. They have the hardest time with those darn computers!

Perhaps some nice young techie can help them restore all those emails from that sincere and pious group of political workers!

What's that? Something about two sets of books? I'm not an accountant! I don't know what you mean!


Eleanor Wilner: A Strong Voice against the War

Back when we were still Iraq virgins, America's poets were mobilizing against the invasion. Remember? Laura Bush had to cancel her little tea party for the poets because all the good ones wouldn't come.

My spouse found this poem on an anti-invasion web site. We still think it's the best of those poems.

Thanks, Eleanor. Your MacArthur fellowship was and is much deserved.

Intuit’s Vibe

Found in the Free Library

"Write as if you lived in an occupied country." – Edwin Rolfe

And we were made afraid,

Being afraid we made him bigger than he was

A little man and ignorant,

Wrapped like a vase of glass in bubble wrap all his life,

who never felt a single lurch or bump,

carried over the rough surface of other lives

like the spoiled children of the sultans of old

in sedan chairs, on the backs of slaves,

the gold curtains on the chair pulled shut

against the dust and shit of the road

on which the people walked, over whose heads he rode,

no more aware than a wave that rattles pebbles on a beach.

And being afraid, we forgot to notice

who pulled his golden strings, how their banks overflowed

while the public coffers emptied,

how they stole our pensions,

poured their smoke into our lungs,

how they beat our ploughshares into swords,

sold power to the lords of oil,

closed their fists to crush the children of Iraq,

took the future from our failing grasp

into their hoards, ignored our votes,

broke our treaties with the world,

and when our hungry children cried,

the doctors drugged them so they wouldn't fuss,

and prisons swelled enormously

to hold the desperate sons and daughters of the poor.

To us, they just said war, and war, and war.

For when they saw we were afraid,

how knowingly they played on every fear-- so conned,

we scarcely saw their scorn,

hardly noticed as they took our funds,

our rights, and tapped our phones,

turned back our clocks, and then, to quell dissent,

they sent...(but here the document is torn)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Anus in the Morning

Today Don Imus will meet with the members of the Rutgers women's basketball team to apologize to them for comparing them to a bunch of nappy-headed ho's.

As can be expected, lots of Imus's fans, mostly younger men, have taken to cyberspace to urge that he be reinstated because he's such a cool guy.

Imus is taking the CBS network's slap on the wrist of two weeks' suspension like a man, which may be the problem. He acknowledges that his remark was out of line. Imus doesn't need defending. He acknowledges that his remark was indefensible. He probably gets the racial part more than he does the ho part. What can this cowpoke learn?

Don hasn't exactly had his consciousness raised. He'll be out for two weeks, and then The Attitude will take to the airways again.

Imus's ego is as big as his ten gallon hat. He is a creation of the popular culture, and politicos and others peddling their American-dream wares have helped to pump it up. He's seen as an arbiter of what's cool and what's electable, God help us. It's hard not to take yourself seriously, with all the fawning he's experienced.

Today Imus will meet with the women he hurt and will try to make nice. If he learns anything significant from him, his listeners won't know it. He'll be off the air for two weeks, after which time he will return, his shtick as arrogant as ever? Maybe. Maybe not.

Another chapter in the life of America.


Sunday, April 08, 2007


The Price of War, part 2007

A Father on Poster Board Just Won’t Do

This piece is in today's NY Times-- in the Style section, of all places. It's a fine piece of writing by Alison Buckholtz and a reminder of the sacrifices made by our troops for this misbegotten war. I read it in the print version and went immediately to the Times web site before it became available. It really moved us and renewed our anger. All this to prop up a lie.

MY three-dimensional husband, Scott, became a Flat Daddy this spring, when his frequent absences (he is an active-duty Navy pilot preparing for deployment) made me worry that our two young children were forgetting him.
I had read about the Flat Daddy program in local newspapers, where writers told of young children toting around three-foot-tall photos of their smiling fathers in uniform. The tone of the articles was sympathetic with a sprinkling of patriotic rah-rah.

The accompanying pictures showed children pushing Flat Daddy on the swing, sitting next to him in a restaurant, riding beside him in the car. Though the real father was stationed overseas, presumably in difficult if not outright hellish conditions, Flat Daddy was always happy, immortalized on photo paper and smoothed onto a stiff foam core.

It all seemed vaguely Orwellian to me. The idea of pretending a proxy dad was home doing all the things a real dad did — when the real father was fighting a war with no end in sight — sparked a sense of dread that I couldn’t shake.

I was also doubtful that the Flat Daddy concept was something my son and daughter would fall for. But every time I flashed back to those upbeat articles, I reconsidered. The families seemed to be having so much fun; maybe they knew something I didn’t. After all, I’ve never been through a deployment with children.

I’m actually surprised to find myself in this situation at all. Nothing in my background indicated that I would marry into the service, carry out the duties of an officer’s wife and comfort my children by explaining to them that Daddy was looking at the same star they were on a dark and lonely night, though he was on a big boat far away. None of my friends or relatives had served in the military. Before I met Scott, I imagined service members to be generally well intentioned but robotic, necessary to society but alien to my experience.

Now, though, I am grateful for the opportunity to experience camouflage close-up. The troops I’ve met are more sincere, dedicated and hard-working than most people I’ve known in the civilian world. I feel fortunate my children and I are part of it, despite the challenges.

And the challenges are staggering. When I gave birth to our son four years ago, my husband was flying in the “shock and awe” campaign over Iraq. More recently he was on an administrative tour. Now it is our turn again, and he is preparing for a six-month mission on an aircraft carrier.

In the half-year leading up to this deployment, he has been away for training every other month, four to six weeks at a time. When he’s on the carrier, he and I have only sporadic e-mail contact, and our son and daughter, who are too young for e-mail, don’t have any contact at all. Though it’s nothing compared with what other military families have endured with repeated and lengthier deployments, I have felt a gnawing need to prepare our children — Ethan, 4, and Esther, 2 — for his extended absence.

Enter Flat Daddy. In the newspaper pictures, the mothers looked so strong, the children so happy. I decided to give him a chance.

When my husband was away in the past, we rarely talked about him; the kids seldom asked about him. I naïvely thought that meant they didn’t think of him or miss him. And I was secretly, selfishly relieved, because it made my life easier.

The moment Flat Daddy arrived, though, my daughter held him and kissed him as if he were the real thing, and even dragged him into her crib at night. In the days that followed, they took him everywhere: out for dessert, where they fed him ice cream; to the library, where my son balanced Flat Daddy on his shoulders and raced through the aisles; into the backyard, where he accompanied them down the slide.

“Daddy’s home!”

Every time they shouted those words, my heart leaped. For one joyful moment I thought my husband had somehow found his way back to us. Of course, it was just the children’s enthusiastic greeting to Flat Daddy, leaning against the wall in the foyer.

We brought to life those photos I’d seen in newspapers. I saw myself as if from afar: I was the military wife keeping it together.

Except that Flat Daddy made keeping it together that much trickier. With his smile literally hovering over us, Ethan and Esther now queried me nonstop. Why did Daddy have to go away? When was he coming back? Tomorrow?

“Not tomorrow,” I’d explain. “He’s going to be away for a long time, but he still loves you and thinks about you every minute.”

Or I’d say: “It’s his job. He loves you very much and doesn’t want to be away from you, but it’s his job, just like your job is to put your boots in the laundry room.”

Flat Daddy did help them remember their father, but the problem now was that we talked about him incessantly. Every picture they drew, every song they sang was for Flat Daddy. I once found my daughter sneaking him sips of her apple juice, holding up the straw to his lips. I discovered my son caressing his cheek.

All that was beneficial for them, I believed. But living with Flat Daddy became harder and harder for me. And not just because of the children’s jackhammer-speed questions about Real Daddy’s eventual return. Before Flat Daddy, I made it through my husband’s absences by pushing away thoughts of him. It usually worked. I stayed busy with writing, my part-time consulting job, squadron activities, the children’s schools.

When friends said, “Your husband must be coming home soon,” I was always surprised, since I hadn’t been keeping track of the days left. It wasn’t that my heart was hardening, or that I loved my husband less. I loved him so much that when he was away, I had to turn off that part of myself to survive — and so our family could still thrive.

The worst moments were immediately after I awoke, when my husband’s absence felt like a presence that hollowed out my chest and made it difficult to breathe. Then my kids would call me from their own bed, and I’d fight my way through the panic, become cheerful and busy, and stay that way until the next morning.

Flat Daddy changed all that. He was a fake husband whose frozen cheerful expression — the same dimpled grin I’d fallen for on a steamy August evening at a cafe in Washington, D.C., six years ago — gave me no comfort. He only reminded me of what I was missing. I would walk by and remember our first kiss, the crush of the glass under his black patent-leather shoe at our wedding, the gentle way he cradled our babies, and I’d think, “Why have you left us?”

But Ethan and Esther loved hanging out with Flat Daddy, so I couldn’t take him out of their lives. Instead, whenever I needed a reprieve I’d put him in the upstairs office, where they never went, and then I’d feel guilty and immediately return him to the family room.

Once I accidentally banged him against the wall, then patted the cutout, catching myself before I apologized. I almost let my son draw on Flat Daddy, thinking that if he was defaced I’d have an excuse to move him to Flat Daddy Heaven.

This preparation for deployment, it became clear, was preparing me for a total breakdown.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one.

One morning we said goodbye to Flat Daddy as usual and headed off to my son’s Montessori preschool, where that day another 4-year-old was giving a presentation about his dad, who was stationed in Iraq for the year. This little boy had pasted pictures on a poster, brought in items his father had sent, such as a carved camel, and wanted to share a book about how to deal with sad and angry feelings.

But Ethan refused to enter the room, crying hysterically and clinging to me as I tried to leave. When the teacher explained to him that the little boy was going to talk about his daddy because he missed him, Ethan started screaming, “But I miss my daddy!”

I tried to comfort him, but he was inconsolable, tears flowing down his cheeks. Finally, I offered to go home to get Flat Daddy. My son looked at me as if I had lost my mind, then burst into a fresh round of crying. “Flat Daddy’s not real,” was all he could say, each word pushed out on a sob.

My brave boy was ready to call it as he saw it: the emperor had no clothes. Watching my children feed ice cream to Flat Daddy and swing with him in the backyard may have been hard for me, but it turns out it was even harder for Ethan. I had to ask myself: Had this been a show he was putting on for me all along, being strong to make Mommy feel better?

Despite my original reservations, I’d allowed this doppelgänger to lull me into a hazy daydream of us as a family again and make me believe my children were fine. But Flat Daddy was no substitute for an ongoing conversation about how Real Daddy’s absences were affecting us. Watching my son come unglued forced me to see that Flat Daddy wasn’t fooling anyone.

And neither was I.

Because when Ethan said that he missed his daddy, I finally started crying, too — for the husband I longed to be with; for my son’s pain; for the boy petting the carved camel as he waited for his dad to return; for the ones whose parents would never return.

I’m sure the Flat Daddy program has comforted many children. I admire the creativity of its founder, and the generosity of its donors. (Each Flat Daddy and Flat Mommy is free for the family of a deployed service member, though we paid for ours.)

BUT it’s all in how it works for each family. For us, the better strategy has been to tuck Flat Daddy away in a corner of the guest room — where Ethan and Esther can visit him when they need to — and to prepare for my husband’s deployment the old-fashioned way: by talking about it. I’m getting advice from other mothers with deployed husbands and young children, whose heroism on their children’s behalf is heart-stopping.

Now I talk about my husband as “my husband,” or “Scott,” not “Flat Daddy.” We go to the park, to the library, to the pizza parlor by ourselves — no foam-core father in tow. We’re happy enough, given the circumstances. We look at pictures of Scott, talk about him and read books about children with deployed parents.

But much of the time we simply keep moving forward as if there’s no hole in our family. It’s sheer pretense, as flimsy as a tissue, and I’m not sure how long it’s sustainable — or if it will get us through the long days ahead.

But it’s better than pretending a smiling cutout loves us back.

Alison Buckholtz lives in Anacortes, Washington.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


Wotta Waste

I hate the whole political money-raising focus of the past week's news as much as I love poetry. I seem to be in the minority here. The media welcome the chance to report the numbers with the same enthusiasm that eighth graders observe student body elections.

I'm not entirely alone, though. This week my co-worker Lisa looked at stories of Mitt Romney's cash stash and sighed. "Think of the good that money like that could do," she said. We slipped into a discussion of what we'd like to see the money used for. It sure wasn't advertising.

It's heartbreaking to think of the money that individuals, PACs, and corporations pour into campaign kitties, the better to fund ads that obfuscate the issues, distort the lives and records of opponents, and generally make real discussions of the issues a wearying ordeal by October.

For my esteemed colleague, Princess Sparkle Pony, the exit of Congress to their vacation break threatened a slow news week. She rebounded nicely, thanks to cherry blossoms, ugly buses, Obama's halo, and Ursula's magnificent scarf collection. For me, it's the mystery of that intersection of art and idea.

Even with Dick Cheney absurdly lurking in the shadows as Dubya attempts to defend the indefensible, it's a dreadful time. bloggily speaking. So forgive me if I want to take refuge in a little truth n' beauty.


Lucille Clifton: Worth a Birth-day or Twelve

My darlin', when asked what she wanted to do for her birthday this year, had only one requirement: she wanted to go to see and hear Lucille Clifton read.

I am the luckiest of spouses. You can build on a request like that. We repaired to the auditorium at Dartmouth where Lucille was reading, meeting our friends Jacqueline and Sydney there. I'd given Jacq. a few of her poems as an introduction.

They weren't disappointed. Lucille was warm, funny, very respectful of the students with whom she'd been working that term. Very whole.

After Oz

midnight we slip into her room
and fill her pockets with stones
so that she is weighted down
so that storms cannot move her

she disappears for hours
then staggers back smelling of straw
of animal

perhaps we have lost her
perhaps home is no longer comfort
or comfort no longer home

evenings we sit awake
in our disenchanted kitchen
listening to the dog whine
to dorothy clicking her heels

Friday, April 06, 2007


Nobody Doesn't Like Billy Collins

... because Billy Collins is alternately tender, accessible, funny, curious, and wry.

He's been the Poet Laureate of the USA, taught all over the place, and brought lots of people to a love of poetry. My favorite book of his is called Sailing Alone Around the Room, although all his books are delight-full.

Check him out!

It has been calculated that each copy of the Gutenberg Bible. . . required the skins of 300 sheep.
(from an article on printing)

I can see them squeezed into the holding pen
behind the stone building
where the printing press is housed

all of them squirming around
to find a little room
and looking so much alike

it would be nearly impossible
to count them,
and there is no telling

which one will carry the news
that the Lord is a shepherd,
one of the few things they already know.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


April Sugar Snow--Whee!

Real Vermonters (both always capitalized, regardless of their place in a sentence) call it sugar snow. (Real Vermonters are those whose lineage goes back 4 or 5 generations. You can otherwise live here 74 out of your 75 years, die here, and then be no more than a longtime resident in your obituary. The rest of us are Flatlanders, not that I give a damn.) Sugar snow is late. It's sticky-granular, and it usually falls while Real Vermonters are spiking sap out of the maple trees and boiling it into syrup and sugar. There are sugar on snow parties, tours of sugar houses, that sort of thing.
It''s a time of great rejoicing, especially when you're a yellow lab whose happiest moments include rolling in the stuff. In another couple of months, she'll be swimming.
It's nice to walk down to Peterson's Pond. The ducks, back for a few days, have gone back to wherever they hide to stay warm. Peterson's a prison guard who treats his neighbors like convicts (should you be unfortunate enough to converse with him), but he does take good care of his pond and the wildlife that gathers there.
Sugar snow is Mama Nature's consolation prize for those of us whose first day of spring doesn't fall till May 1 rather than March 21. Real Vermonters like to say that it's about June 15, but they're just bragging.
Aren't we quaint?


Passion, the Thin Wire of Grief: Diana O Hehir

Actually, the metaphor in the heading comes from George Oppen, a poet's poet, but somehow it describes very well the poetry of Diana O Hehir.

She's Berkeley, California born and raised, and she's nurtured many upcoming poets by teaching for many years at Mills College. She also writes wonderful novels, I Wish This War Were Over and The Bride Who Ran Away among them. She pops up online in frequently.

The following poem has always knocked my socks off. It's from her book The Power to Change Geography.


Turning toward you in this pale room
With your shoulders bent, your head ducked forward, that vulnerable
Film across the eyes, the shadow
Of everything I’ve been waiting for,

Love comes in to us, heavy and stale-winged, powder of dust upon its feet, layers

Of waiting filling me up to the edges of my life; there’s no corner
That doesn’t have your cushioning in it.

The medium I move in, my need, a soft silk, the clinging
Air we breathe, the brooding
Of tents, heavy as low cloud, shapeless, surrounding,
All is our ache, made out of forbidden stuff.
Live in me, I say to you now.

Around us the weave of an indestructible listening,
Love, a dark heavy sister waits over us,
Her watching so strong it melts the backbone, brings
Our word out of its grave, its hair thick in dust, its dark eyes wild.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Just Say Rove

I keep wondering how Karl "the Chemical Formula for Slime" Rove continues to duck inquiries and prosecutions.

Surely there's no one more interesting to interrogate than this bean bag.

As I scanned an article in the Huff Post tonight about some Gonzales aide who is taking the Fifth while her lawyer blasts Congressional Democrats, I wondered, why are we even having this conversation? Why talk to any of these underlings when the big Turd Blossom continues to emit such a telling odor?

Get the Great Oz to step out from behind his screen, whether for the outing of Valerie Plame, or the firing of the U.S. attorneys, or for any of Dubya's other inefficiencies and atrocities, and you'll find one of two men who make living in the body looking like an act of obscenity, Karl Rove or Dick Cheney. Were they separated at birth?

You just don't see either of them testifying.

Anyone else is (you should pardon the expression) someone in the bush leagues.


Hard Times in the Motor City: Jim Daniels

If you saw Michael Moore's Roger and Me, you're ready to read Jim Daniels' Places/Everyone.

Jim is from a family of auto workers in Detroit, and while he spent his own time on the line, he drifted toward poetry and now teaches at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He once visited a literacy program I was running in Watsonville, California, and he teamed up with a bunch of field workers and they turned out some wonderful poems about their working lives.

Like Tom Wayman, Jim has written a lot about work. His Digger poems follow an auto worker and his buddies through life on the line and life during layoffs. He's written wonderful poems about short order cooking and office work and clerking in a liquor store. He rocks back and forth comfortably between humor and irony and compassion.

May's Poem

"I want to write a poem
about something beautiful,"
I tell May, the cook.
On my break from the grill
I stand against the open kitchen door
getting stoned.

"That shit'll make you stupid,"
May wrinkles her forehead
in waves of disapproval.

"I don't need to be smart
to work here."
The grease sticks to my skin
a slimy reminder
of what my future holds.

"I thought you was gonna be
a writer. What about that
beautiful poem?"

I take a long hit
and pinch out the joint.
"You'll end up no good
like my boy Gerald."

"May, I'm gonna make you
a beautiful poem," I say
and I turn and grab her
and hug her to me
pick her up
and twirl her in circles
our sweaty uniforms sticking
together, her large breasts

heaving in my face
as she laughs and laughs
and the waitresses all come back
and the dishwasher who never smiles
makes a noise that could be
half a laugh .

But she's heavy
and I have to put her down.
The manager stands there:
"Play time's over. Break's over."
Everyone walks away
goes back to work.

This isn't my beautiful poem, I know.
My poem would have no manager
no end to breaks.
My poem would have made her lighter.
My poem would have never put her down.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


Tom Wayman; Work, Wisdom, Wit

If a crush is, among other things, an expression of sensibility, I have a permanent crush on Tom Wayman.

I've loved the man and his work since 1986, when I saw him read at a conference in Edmonton, Alberta. His low-key wit and Whitmanesque honoring of the worker make you want to be Canadian.

Tom is the leader of the New Work Writing, writing that honors the subject of work. We spend massive amounts of time on the job; work is worthy of our contemplation, our creation.

I'll probably have to revisit Tom's poems this month. There are too many that I want to share. Let's start with a sort of credo, from Counting the Hours: City Poems:

For the Younger Writers

Ambition is a kind of greed,
honorable, in the poor.
We start with a word,
not power or money
or fame. The word is angry
but the word is true.

Or nearly true. So after a time
after many words, it can happen
the word becomes about fame
or money. The word that began with a lack
becomes about power over others.

Now ambition
has nothing to do with poverty.
The word may be successful,
or famous, or even angry.
But it is now the anger or success
of those greedy for power over the poor.
The word now lies.

It lies because a word
cannot be rich
or famous or successful.
The words are not even ours.
We are all poor,
except those who are against the poor.
If you write for these, as one of these,
you will be applauded.
But who are you then? What have you said?

Remember the word you began with.
Be ambitious for the poor.

Monday, April 02, 2007


National Poetry Month: Irene McKinney

Irene Mc Kinney is one of the best poets you've never heard of.

That's because she's passionate about writing and indifferent to self-promotion. Maybe even allergic to it. She's one of my very favorites. That was her "Monkey Heart" that I ran recently. She is the Poet Laureate of West Virginia, where she lives on her family farm. Her integrity never fails to amaze me.

This one's from an out-of-print collection that I wish someone would re-publish, Quick Fire and Slow Fire. This poem makes me think and breathe, mindfulness.


When I refuse to see the chair has presence
I trip over it repeatedly. When the stream is out
of mind I fall in it, when the snow is an
annoying intrusion I shiver. Then I smell

the oil of hands on the wooden arms of the chair,
I see the careful fittings of the joints,
the intricate carvings, and I no longer bump into it
but sit in it and read or eat my dinner.

And the stream begins to flow through mind
and carries some splinters and chips of varnish
away. I no longer fall unexpectedly into
the stream because I am already in it, and sometimes

I bring soap and oil and towels chosen for their
whiteness and sweetness. When I fell into the stream
I was always wearing boots but now I am
able to get my feet clean at last. And when

the snow came from the sky like an accident I was
wet and cold, hunched against the touch
of the flakes and knotted and gnarled against
the news. It is hard at first to push a breath

of ease around the knots. After three breaths
I see that I can always breathe until I die.
It's a beginning. The lungs are a happiness kit
that we can carry everywhere and assemble
when there's time and inclination. Why not?
I repeat. I mean it, why not?

Sunday, April 01, 2007


In Celebration of Poets (and Other Fools)

I've been looking forward to April, which is National Poetry Month in more than name only.

I'd like to be a poet, but my language rolls out without the music that characterizes poetry. I read lots of poetry, so I'll simply share some of my favorites during this month.

Since we are also celebrating April Fool's Day, today's choice celebrates (and defines) being-a-fool, too.

From e.e.cummings' 100 Poems:

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don't cry
--the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids' flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis.

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