Dec 30, 2004

Three short reviews

House of the Flying Daggers

All genre, no story.

What made the director's Hero so fantastic was it’s way of telling an interesting and uncommon story. The reviewers, at least, seem to be so distracted by the genre they’ve forgotten it’s a story telling technique.

A Very Long Engagement

A tragic toned love story upset by whimsy, leaving everything, in the end, off-kilter.

It was interesting, however, to see the Great War's French-mud trenches as a backdrop in a contemporary film. A lot of symbolism and imagery that we know, literarily, get used (or at least I saw the possibility of it getting used) cinematically.

Lemony Snciket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events

A deliciously gothicly dark children’s story, making fun of happy endings and still holding that “there’s always a way,” in the gloomful-imagination tradition of Where the Wild Things Are and Edward Gorey.

A great performance by Meryl Streep being spastic, phobic and quirky. Curiously, subtitles are used to translate the baby’s dialogue of humorous comments and they got great laughs from the children in the audience.

Dec 28, 2004


Blogger has stopped counting the number of posts on this blog at 1,444, a number I passed a few months ago.


The New York Times has an end of the year obit summary including India’s mustachioed Robin Hood, the kibitzing Socratic, and the Godmother of political columnists.

Dec 25, 2004

A light shone in the darkness


and dwelt among us.

Dec 16, 2004

Brando, Parker and Pollock
American art, improvisation and imitation

"Apocalypse Now describes, with hallucinatory precision, how the counterculture became the mainstream."

Dec 14, 2004



The analysis of Derrida, now that he's dead but before that too I suppose, seems to be that he was obscure and an obfuscationist.

I think this take is somewhere between stupid and dishonest. Or both. Probably both. I haven't decided how best to argue that though, so let this serve as a placeholder.
Sublation: From the Latin sublatio, meaning to take or carry away, the removal, elevation or detachment of a part. The traditional translation of Aufhebung, a term of Hegel's for "the simultaneous negation and retention of what is being surpassed by the progress of dialectical thought."

(Dissemination, by Jaques Derrida, trans. by Barbara Johnson, pg 4, footnote 2).
Coffee drinkin’ hat

      When I left home my dad said “If you fail you can always come home. And no joining the French Foreign Legion. Understood?” I knew a couple a guys who joined the French Foreign Legion though, and they said it was the most boring four years of their lives.

      Yeah they’re not a world power any more so there’s nowhere to go. You just like wear that cool hat around and drink coffee in Paris or something.
      Actually, that sounds pretty good.

Dec 8, 2004

So God and the devil walk into a bar...

God, they say, has a sense of humour.

No one ever says about the devil though.

Dec 6, 2004

Ambler Letters 3
Correspondance exerts from apt. c rear

I’m not in the mood to write a letter. I’m not, actually, in the mood to write at all.

Yeah but it was a different culture then. We expected different things.

I don't resent anything my parents did, and don't regret any part of the history I lived. They may not understand that, may want to fix it and make it right, but I'm actually thanking them for the convoluted path they took me on. I'm glad I saw the things I saw, went the places I went, got the bruises I got.

Hope this isn’t a depressing letter. I was cornered by a crazy man at church this morning. People are baffled by the simplest directions like “up the hill.” I had to pump gas for a Korean guy because he didn’t understand how to use a credit card or that you have to squeeze the handle. He kept saying “okay okay.” A black woman just yelled at me for making her prepay when I don’t have any power over that. I had to laugh like hell.
An ironic tombstone epitaph: But his imagination failed him.

This is a genuine throwing-the-piano-from-the-fifth-floor letter.

We’ve been talking a lot here about how Advent is the season of darkness waiting for light, how the incarnation of our Lord is the intervention in and interruption of the darkness of the world. I was brokenhearted last week to read that Holland has legalized and been practicing the euthanizing of terminally ill infants. It is dark indeed. We turn again to the hope of the impossible – that the lamb of God comes to take away the sin of the world, that God is made flesh, that time, space and nature are breached by the Eucharist, that a door will be opened.

Dec 3, 2004

Didn't Checkov say the bus goes off in the third act?

Luke Heyman, my shaggy-haired, motorcycle-riding mortician and Ohioan friend who always reminded me of Neal Cassady and has been reading too much Vonnegut has written a six part story about a genius who wanted to be normal and I think it's incredible.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Nov 30, 2004

Working the holiday

I was thinking of keeping track of all the strange people who came into my only-place-open-on-Thanksgiving gas station but I was by far the strangest person of the night, so I gave up.

Nov 29, 2004

“Socrates reading Socrates, if you will, and suddenly not understanding a thing, and just on the verge of waking up. It’s cold in this hotel.”
            - Derrida

In this manner, I

We roared in prayer. We shouted the names of God until they could hear us down the street, could pull up their windows on a Texas afternoon and listen to that rumble-yelling wave we called calling down the Holy Ghost and they called a Penny-costal show better’n the radio. We prayed like we were desperatly praying down God, scared he'd pass us by. We prayer there, rocking back and forth in our fold-out chairs like Hassids at the wall, like mental patients confined to wheel chairs, rocking back and forth and praying.

My dad said we would’ve swung on the chandeliers, but we didn’t have any. So we danced in our seats and on our seats and ran through the aisles around the building in a procession going nowhere. We raised our hands and waved our hands and when we clapped I cupped my hands so my claps popped air explosions and the violence beat my palms an ugly red. We shouted in the words of men, shouted in the words of angels, shouted until the place reverberated with the mixed-up mashed-up sounds of supplication noise loud enough to drown you.

The three elders sat up front, where the gray carpet rose in three steps up to the platform past the podium to the three chairs against the wall, sat there rocking and praying in baritones. We’d pray like that to exhaustion, until we’d slow down, calm down, still out into a mumble, tired by the fervor fever, worn out on the excess and you’d hear some sister sobbing and the usher at the door hissing by threes the One Name of Jezzusss, Jezzusss, Jezzusss. Then the second elder, the number two man sitting in the middle chair would drop his west Texas boom booming out over us Aaaaa-men, amen amena mena mena mean men. Aaaaaa-men, and we’d rise to it, shouting Jesus Lord God Yahweh Jesus Amen Hallelujah Amen Hellelujah Jesus Jesus raising prayers to the decibel we called zealous.

We joined when I was 9 years old. Left when I was 14.
Church architecture
for the beginning of the Church year

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Nov 23, 2004

What's the difference, anyway, between a comedy and a tragedy?

I used to think of myself as a monster.

Now I think of myself as a cartoon monster.

Nov 20, 2004

"'What keeps the old alive, Dr. Sengal,' whispers Burroughs, 'is that we learn to be evil.'"

"Only in our solitary hungers do we find ourselves capable of the most magnificently unexpect sins."
            - Michael Paterniti, in Driving Mr. Albert.

Nov 19, 2004

Some thoughts for the road

The similarities between Che and Einstein as resurrected in pop.
Einstein's brain.
The word Hueristic.
The impossibility of an ontology of music.
The occurances of iteration in performance and composition.
The Tractatus' description of the Tractatus as ridiculous.
Cultic inclinations.
The metaphore of ladders.
Chick Tracts as pop art.
The running lights on the front of semis.
What questions I cannot ask myself to ask because of stable structures.

Pretty much

Some guy my brother knows:
"Don't call me stupid man, but what's philosophy? Is that like where you study your signs and shit?"

Nov 15, 2004

Roar Achilles, roar

Rage is an underrated emotion in poetry.
Stories: a universal obsession of human nature.

Nov 8, 2004

We laugh and we know that we lose

Dan-U-el my boss says, giving me the name he gives me when he’s in a good mood, gonna put you to doing the fence today.

So I shoulder the tools from the shop and he takes my job, jingling change behind the counter, leaving be the paperwork and the back office to stand here staring through the window to the gas pump islands, listening to the beeping bleeping whirring register registering the flow of gas and cash mobilizing in and out of the economy. He goes back behind the counter, back to doing what he started doing, 45 years ago, before he was a manager, before he was an owner, before he retired and unretired, back at the beginning, making change. He puts off his trademark expletive motto of F—ing people and does the demeaning little three-step repartee of the clerk, saying How we doing? How we doing? That’s good.

I have to dig out the four-by-fours first, the rotted out ones and the run over ones of the fence’s knocked out sections looking like knocked-up teeth, but the ground is soft and the posthole digger’s handles are new and I set in to the rhythm of work.

The sweat starts in, like something I hadn’t really forgotten, the wood loosens its hold a little from the dirt and the cars come in and out, in and out and I don’t care, don’t care about pre-pay or post- or drive aways or pump numbers or change and wha’cha need or wha’cha lookin’ for. It feels good. Real work. Unmechinized labor. For the first time in six months with this gainful employment I’m doing something that’ll be here, tomorrow. This fence, this is something that’s not alienating or degrading, that doesn’t make me want to fight back, walk out. This isn’t making change on the selling out of the American dream. This isn’t dealing numbers on the hopes of a fluke in your favor even though we all know the house always wins.

They pay you extra for the hard work? the garbage man says from his truck, eating lunch. They aint in the business of paying extra, I say. And we laugh and we know that we lose, and he’s here to play his triple twos - they all play triple twos, like it’s a trinity of hope - and I string out my twine in a straight line for a section of fence. The wood’s almost white, unweathered unstained, and I stand my panel of pine in the dirt kicking the dead leaves out of my way and leaning them against the old fence that wants to wobble.

The election results are coming in from Ohio, Ohia, ‘hia, the one place I lived this year without registering to vote, the one of the four swing states I stopped in that’s turning red, the radio said, and now I remember this is what I was doing when I heard the results of the first race I followed, eight years ago, back in California, back before, back at the beginning. I was tearing down a fence that time. I had to set the radio on top of a post to get the reception to hear the results. I was working behind a hill in back of a field on a corral that was falling down and not needed anymore. And it was Dole/Kemp, Clinton/Gore, and I watched a coyote walk through the fields in the late afternoon, watched him watching me and keeping a board-throwing distance between us.

Good fences, I thought then, and I think now, though I don’t know if anyone believes that anymore and can’t think
of when the last time was anyone voted for good fences. Good work I think I lean on my posthole digger and look at this work I can look at.

I bust my knuckle building this fence, and the red blood left a red spot on the white wood like a marking scent, like a signiture waiting to be washed away with the weathering into gray.

Dan-U-el, my boss says, how we doing?

I built a fence, I say, I built me a fence.

Nov 4, 2004

Barak Obama 2008?

Nov 3, 2004

Election Day, 2004

Nov 1, 2004


My article in Gideon Strauss' Comment on the New York Intellectual's attemps to found a tradition has been reviewed by Fr. Neuhaus in First Things.

Oct 29, 2004

Pictures of breaking away

In Ohio all the postcards were from Florida, from outside, away, where they don’t grow hay, where the dirt’s all sand and the water’s real blue and on the front of every post card was a girl bikinied and air brushed and tan and she was always arching her back or something like that and they pinned up the post cards by the shop door. There were a half dozen of them there, below the clock and covered in diesel dust and we’d stand circled between them and the door and the pop-filled refrigerator hanging hay hooks on our belts and waiting for our next truck to come.

I read them once, unpinned them from the wall and flipped them over to the blank white side where they’d been addressed to back here home and postmarked exotically Florida and signed out by uncles on vacation. They didn’t say much. Weather was great and I’ll be back soon enough but damn it’s nice away down here.

I find old postcards sometimes, in antique shops and estate sales and pinned up in old garages and kitchens and sometimes tucked in forgotten in books someone sold without flipping through, and they never do say much – there and back, me and you, home and away and weather and touristy sight you can say you can see. There’s not much space on a postcard and not much ever said and half of it’s just addressing anyway and we write in the white whatever we think of on hand.

It’s just a little blank space on the back of a picture waiting for your words, if only you had something to say. If only you had something to say but you just stare at the space. Waiting. Daunted. Every post card is a case of writer’s block.

I bet mailmen don’t read postcards. Maybe they do in the beginning but if they’ve been at it for awhile they have to know what they say, know they’re just let downs letting down the people who didn’t get to go and the people who have to come back, just pictures of dreams we can only remember wanting to have. They have to know postcards are well wishes benigned into thinking of you, exotic wishes mailed home as temperature information.

Or maybe they do read them, they know what they say but can’t look away and they always read every one and the mailmen too are taunted by the pictures and the hoped thoughts of escape, or breaking away, and then they flip them over and stare at the white side and the boredom again, again every time, lets them down a little sad.

I bought a deck of picture postcards for the pictures back when I was on tour and thought maybe I’d mail them to friends from gas stations along the highway. I found one last night, stuck in a book I hadn’t looked at in awhile. The front’s a picture of Dali-painted cars with clothe draped over the long 1940s hoods and shiny hub caps and the black door panel’s peeled back to showing a red brick wall and a tree grows out of the roof like the car hasn’t moved in a long time. It’s stamped, and addressed but never sent. Half the back is blank. Saying nothing. I addressed it, bought a stamp. I looked at the picture and thought the car needed wings to get away and I looked at the back and had nothing to say. The weather maybe. Or I could tell them I was thinking of them and liked this picture or that I didn’t know if I wanted to be here and didn’t know if I wanted to go back there but I was just blank staring at the square and thinking stop breathing, stop breathing for me now. Write it on a postcard.
Should conservatives vote for Nader?

Oct 28, 2004

The two percent

It's been a long really long sad long time since I've laughed so hard I laughed milk through my nose.

But then, I don't drink milk.

Oct 26, 2004

In halves

Boss: "You're stupid, but you're honest-stupid."

Co-worker: "It's half of one of those days."

Oct 22, 2004

This morning in Ambler:

I held the door open for a man with a cane and a coffee.

A black hearse let me in and a silver hearse cut me off.

The coffee shop bus boy smoked a cigarette in front of a blackboard chalked Yankees go home! Go Red Sox and watched a stone mason set a head-sized rock.

I plugged a hole in my truck tire, which is like the fourth time I've had to since I learned how to plug tires.

I'm thinking maybe I should take up woodcarving again.

Oct 21, 2004

What do you do

There’s a man I heard about in Montana who’s in prison for starting a grass fire. It killed a couple of people, firemen maybe, and the families of the dead were demanding justice and the neighbors all scowled at him and the court said recklessness and manslaughter and he was convicted of a couple of misdemeanors and a felony and I guess there was more legal language to it than that, but what he did was mow his field during a dry spell without carrying a fire extinguisher.

Hit a rock. Spark caught. Somebody died.

He just hadn’t thought about it. He was just mowing. The grass’d got long in the spring and he’d been too busy and now he’d been thinking it needed to get cut real short and without any rain he wouldn’t have to cut it until late fall and he was doing circles on a Saturday with a ball cap attempting shade and his skin was all itchy from the scratchy dry grass shredded by double blades and floating gnat-cloud like around the mower and he was coughing and spitting up the dust when he hit the rock. Heard it and winced at the garbling grinding gnarl of the crunch of a rock hitting the double blades with a double thump, clanged up against the housing and got spat out the grass shot with sling shot sound effects and he winced at the noise and thought that blade’ll need sharpening and then there was fire.

Nobody said so, but a fire extinguisher probably wouldn’t have done anything. You just can’t move fast enough when it’s that dry. I mean he stomped on the flames and thought for a second he had it, got it out, thought almost - please - almost, and thought that he was gonna get back on the mower in a second and finish and just be telling people he’d had a close one, and then the fire just took off and there wasn’t nothing he could do. Even if he’d a had shovel or if there’d a been a hose out there, the fire was too fast. Once it started.

The fire moved out in ripples from the rock's spark, light brown grass turned to dark gray smoke in huge ugly billows rolling up to heaven lazy and easy and unstoppable and the man was standing in the ash-black circle, his mower still idling, and he was cursing almost crying and there wasn’t nothing he could do.

He’s in prison now. For four to six years I think, I’m not sure. I wonder what he’s gonna do when he gets out.
Anglican politics

I've posted my summary of the Windsor Report and my thoughts on reading it over on the papers page.

Oct 19, 2004

Reading age

I am now at the point where I've loaned out enough books I can't be sure I'll ever get them all back, but not yet to the point to keep a list of loans.

Oct 18, 2004

Angry Bob was angry...

Oct 17, 2004

Finding the break

J. Derrida, rest in peace, 1930 - 2004

I was wearing a jean jacket over a sweater over a flannel shirt, naked hands jammed in my pockets and knit cap toque cap pulled down down and I was as cold as I’d ever been without knowing how cold it was, since I couldn’t read the Canadian thermometer. Whatever the thermometer read though, it was colder than that. The wind came over the lake and tunneled in down through the streets with a frozen fierceness and I said, why the hell isn’t hell frozen over?

I wanted to see Derrida. I’d skipped school and come to Toronto for a philosophy conference in ’02 with a few loonies and twonies, was living on falafels and sausages from the corner vendor and staying in the cheap and rickety hostel half heated behind the Hooters and wandering around cold as hell and I wanted to see Derrida and I was standing in the back of conference rooms taking notes (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) in a journalism notebook pulled from my back pocket and listening to real philosophers with suits with nametags talk philosophy, talk together in ivory lingo as old friends and old enemies in esoteric little sub-studies, plan meetings in hotel bars and shopping trips up town with shop talk turning to tenures and publishings. I was conspicuously undergrad, in the back suitless nametagless, jean-jacket wearing, too cheap too young too uneducated to be one of them but excited that these people existed in these jobs talking about these things.

jackI stood with them waiting for Derrida, bunched up in un-lines outside the doors waiting for the opening, waiting for the little wrinkled man rightly passing for an atheist and talking about prayer. You had to have a $100 nametag to get in and there were guards at the doors watching the badges held up as the profs bunched through the doors in finding-a-seat herds and stood there wondering how I was supposed to pass, wondering how I could expect a breach, stood there and threw myself to the hope of an opening in the closed, and the guards looked at the mobbing push pouring through and shrugged, motioned they didn’t care, it wasn’t their problem, motioned break and left.

I walked in, like the uninvited guest at the feast or the lame man who’s friends cut a hole through the roof, depending on your point of view.

Do you know what you’re getting into, the priest asked me and I guess you never do, but sometimes you can hear the air pressure building before you hear the sound of the orchestra’s music.

Things I learned from Derrida:

1. Look twice, look closer: take an idea, stand it on its head, and think it again.
2. Philosophy is like Calvinball.
3. Love the impossible, especially the impossibilities of prayer, justice and forgiveness.
4. Look for the poor, the parenthesized, the marginalized, the hidden.
5. Be attentive to absences, doubts and aporias.
6. Don’t be afraid of the joke, of play.

Oct 14, 2004

Last night

I show up in other people's dreams as often as I show up in my own.

How weird is that.
Mail mon

My mutton-chopped mail man is speaking in a Jamaican accent today.

Oct 12, 2004

Listening to the terror through the wall

Not that I knew him that well. Not that I knew him that well but I considered him a friend, a "fellow traveler" I might have said and we met once on the long stair steps of a bus station. He had a latte, I had a coffee and an orange and we talked about the road, experiencing deliberatly, of art.

I don't know what to say so I say "shit man. shit." He's a heroin addict now and shit man, I wish you'd told me he was dead.

Oct 9, 2004

Jacques Derrida died last night at the age of 74.
May he rest in peace.

more to come...
'Why I haven't called' in a three-shell game

I know only riddles, long answers & stories.

Oct 6, 2004

Going to hell
"Have we all accepted the Antichristian notion that God loves all men and desires to save all?"
I'm not Able, I'm just Cain/ Open up heaven/ Make it rain

God said don't give me your
Tin horn prayers
Don't buy roses off the street down there
Took it all and look the dirt road home
Dreaming of Jenny with the light brown hair
Night is falling like a bloody axe
Lies and rumours and the wind at my back
Hand on the wheel gravel on the road
Will the pawn shop sell me back what I sold

I'm gonna take the sins of my father
I'm gonna take the sins of my mother
I'm gonna take the sins of my brother
Down to the pond

REVIEWS:constant music, guardian arts, indie london.

Oct 5, 2004

Because eeyore was an ironist.

Oct 4, 2004

Remember death

Fall, the calendar said, and things started dieing. Immediately leaves began to wrinkle with age, crumpling crumbling on the ground and the corn stalks went brown, a shifting of shades unnoticed almost, and the sky cooling in opening intonations of death.

The dragonfly is dark brown dead on my window sill, fragile double wings folded back, round head gone brittle and bug eyes gone dark. He flew in my door, opened weeks back in hopes of a breeze with the evening dark, flew in with vigor, with life, in and attacked the light above the kitchen table, throwing giant horror-movie shadows on the white wall.

I found him later, clinging to the window screen. Dead. Delicate brown stillness in maybe acceptence of finding a late summer breeze in which to die and he reminded me of ducking the first time I saw a dragonfly, startled and surprised and the buzzing bobbing big-eyed violence of them. I was seven, it was June or July and they were fascinatingly frightening in gaudy colors and large ugly buggness finely winged and gently balanced bodies but flying with crashing recklessness, named for a monster and floating like a hummingbird. I lifted him gently from window’s mesh and held him, delicate and dead, life-sapped to silence, leaving him in rest on the sill above the sink, memento moria of beautiful ugliness.

The emptiness of the hole is cut down brown with jagged edges to the ritualistically scattered gray landfill rocks at the bottom. They’ve dug up the graveyard, unrested the dead, carted off the marble headstone markers marked with crosses and pulled loose shook loose the coffins like weeds pried up out of their hold to the earth. It’s just a hole now, death erased to a blankness, the dead silence again, cast out again, excommunicated from the living. It’s just a hole now emptied of death like a resurrection false alarm, earth open around the Methodist Church soon to come down clapboard by clapboard, the red slash of the red-sash sign to go dim, earth opened for business to the strip malls and the drive-throughs, split open sanitized woken from still hopes of peace to be put to labor.

My brother tells me they stopped building the bridge back home from peninsula to island to mainland when they dug down to the bones. Every man quit, went home, went on strike for the dead. They talked about curses and ghosts, of dust you are and to, requiems and final resting places and times when all you know is it’s always appropriate to cross yourself. They talked about Indian burials and Viking burials and Christian burials and afterlives and resurrections. They felt the air in their lungs and the weight of their feet on the earth. They talked, shovels silent, and every one remembered death.

The backhoe stands above the barren hole like a tribute to yellowness, yellow violent with death, the color of leaves gasping for last life, and soon it too will be gone, moved out leaving the ground sealed smoothed with pavement. It’ll rattle off with the last wheezy thoughts of death and rest, and the ground will be clean, de-sanctified safe for the living buying but even as openings open the hemisphere will tilt to death, dieing clothed in colors of memento moria and the shop windows will open to display open-ribbed skeletons advertising with symbolic sickles and the dead will have their day.

Oct 2, 2004


GRAHAM GREENE, born a hundred years ago today, the patron saint of doubters, Catholic Agnostics, of those who've prayed to be saved from faith, recieved invisable sacraments, wished there was someone they could say they were sorry to and know the sinner is the heart of Christianity.

"We find ourselves the only ones truly committed - committed to the whole world of evil and good, to the wise and to the foolish, to the indifferent and to the mistaken. We have chosen nothing except to go on living."

Oct 1, 2004

And often

My third voter registration of 2004 came today.

It's the decade of "W stands for..."

Sep 28, 2004

Iste ego sum

How funny we must look to others the man said, and there she is, not ha ha funny but violently recoiled, pulled back, jumped back from my window tap and the whites of her eyes are opened up wide.

You left something on the roof I say loud to the window and she stays pulled away, pretty face covered in fear, pulling pulling away as far away from the window between us as the seat will let her. My lips move wordless in my reflection, saying nothing. My smile of sunshine on a day off in a parking lot goes sad, weakening like a Disney monster that didn’t mean to, and I see my face: knit hat and greasy hair, glasses coming down the wide nose and sour smile dieing letting cheeks loose to sag. I didn’t mean to I want to say, it wasn’t supposed to and I walk away well you know, you know what you are.

Iste ego sum, that’s what Narcissus said when his reflection had no voice, when he saw himself wordless, fake and flat. I am that man. I am that damn man.

Grendel didn’t know, I think, couldn’t have known wandering the wilderness with the wandering of Cain. But he saw it there in fear-opened pupils, saw his hairy face marked monster standing double in their eyes. He saw there fear, their gasps, their laughter strangling when they met his eyes and he knew later what they’d say, Oh my god, he was so creepy. He was scary and big and greasy and he was just right there and I was like oh my god oh my god. And he knew it was fear of him and he thought wait wait. I’m the villain?

She tells me about the loser at church, how he didn’t get out of college and isn’t married and they think he’s arrogant and no one likes him, and about that creepy guy with the duffel bag who smiled and she was afraid to walk home and I sit there thinking that another place or another day someone’s saying this about me.

Iste ego sum.

Maybe Beowulf said that, when he saw Grendel come out of the mists alone, said that when he knew this was about the two of them, that they were the story, the show, the white hat, the black hat, straight man and comedian, Lone Ranger and Tonto. Maybe Beowulf saw the worst, heard it described, and knew it was him, felt akin, discovering himself in the identity of the enemy.

For my dad it was the shouting crowd, where he’d recognize himself, where he heard the words as his own belligerent shout of crucify him crucify him. He’d hear the words slipping over-easy out of his mouth his blood be on us and out children and would start to cry, would catch his reflection in the eye of the beaten bleeding God and know what he was. Have mercy on me, he say, on me mea culpa iste ego sum.

For me it’s always been Judas. Judas who walked and talked wearing sandals with the creator of all the universe incarnate to redeem mankind, and then decided he was worth exactly 30 pieces of silver. Demons I say, as if that explains anything, as if that somehow makes me safe and happy to know that one of the twelve handpicked by very God of very God one day wakes up possessed and traitorous. Greed I say, or lust and then I let the chills set in because I don’t know, don’t know why or how and all I know is I’m not safe and I want nothing nothing to do with it with him, don’t want my money back and as I’m pulling as far away as the seat’ll let me and revulsion’s coming through my skin like the smell of sweat and my stomach is coiling and recoiling as he settles the rope around his neck and turns against the burn to look at me, weakly smiling.

Sep 27, 2004

Copping Coltrane

Conflicting emotions have reduced me to yeahs.
What could I say?
What but beep beep Bethlehem.

Sep 21, 2004

"I wasn't out to save the world. I was out to get a story."

Eddie Adams, photojournalist, rest in peace.

My mutton-chopped mail man says that if he wins the lottery he’s gonna buy a stretch mail truck and hire a driver.

Sep 20, 2004

My other suit to the salvation army

A woman came into the gas station for $20 on pump four and I recognized her in a vauge sort of way so I think it's from her being in the station before but I can't remember what happened last time to make me remember.

She said "Hello. How're you? You're still here?"

I wanted to hate her "still here" and I wanted to be sarcastic and I wanted to demand an explanation.

I said "Yes."
And then I say oh yeah

Sometimes I don't realize what a strange life I've lived until I'm in the middle of a story.

Sep 16, 2004

On a day when nothing happened
an ongoing series in a weird legend

1. I was born in a mobile home
2. on a hill of overgrown Christmas trees
3. in the former chicken-plucking capital of the world
4. the year the town flooded in a 1000-year-flood
5. and my dad was so excited he ran down the hall to yell "it's a boy" into the empty living room.

Sep 15, 2004

Didn't notice it was dead or didn't care

The wind blew down blue from the north and the earth woke up frozen. The morning was iced over in a fierce ugliness – the frosted-up cellophane-looking ice shell suffocating the trees, crusting the concrete, and sealing in shock the brown grass of winter. The houses looked freezer-burnt, everything was closed and the roads forsaken to salt.

I don’t remember if that was the winter they threw us out of that church, or the winter we hawked Mom’s guitar for rent and rice or some other one, but it was winter in Texas. January and I was 12 or 13. I put on two flannel shirts, sweat pants and then overalls and laced up my brown boots with yellow-brown laces and got my jacket.

We’d build a chicken coop in the spring, built it from tin and unpainted plywood and treated pine with a floor of somebody’s throwaway oak slats that twisted and bent two brown bags of nails. Past the garden’s fenced-in tangle of the once-living and once-ordered tomato vines and zucchini leaves now rotting black back to dirt, and past the turkey’s coop emptied to the winter wind, their door left open dragging into the dirt since the day we killed them, leaned against the backside of the chicken house, were the construction scraps. Sheets of corrugated tin, with edges sheared sharp, leaned over warping two-by-fours, rolls of chicken wire sinking into the hard-frozen ground and plywood pieces circular sawed to uselessness.

I picked up a plywood piece ripped into the shape of a letter unknown to alphabets, grasped the end and banged into the ground. The wood bent and sprung, flecks of wood colored without pattern flexing flinging off bits of frozen leaves and dirt and poultry feathers. I hit it three times, four times, and brushed it off with my jacket sleeve.

The hill rode down from the porch to the tree where I wasn’t supposed to have carved my name into the bark and to the four-foot high fence that pretended to separate our suburban cut-grass yard from the raccoon, rattle snake and poison ivy filled woods of the gully that drained out to the lake. I put the plywood on the ground, ran up and jumped on, riding the slide down speeding blurring over the ice, past the compost pile, past the tree. At the last moment I rolled off, bailed out, tipped left spilling out sending the board free skating to bounce into the fence.

We spent the whole morning that way. David trying to jump the sled off the compost pile corner and Valerie losing a glove trying to palm a brake into the hill and Michael too little to learn to lean with the steeringless sliding sheet of plywood. Our parents stood on the porch and said how did we not kill ourselves and looked at our bodies bruising with tumbles and faces going red with cold, at our exuberance beating paths into the desolation of a world frigid dormant dead. We pushed each other and raced each other and beat a broken path along the side of the slide, hauling our boards back to the top to do it all over again.
Chipped dream still image

A floor of off-white tile, lit a washed-out blue. Gray grout lines in a textured cartesian graph making antiseptically precise and medium squares.

One tile with a corner cracked.

Sep 13, 2004

Places I've been

"Wait wait. You worked for a newspaper?"
"Yeah. I was the editor of two college papers."
"I knew that."
"And was a reporter for a daily paper the summer I turned 19 and that Christmas and the summer I turned 20. The biggest beats I had were cops and courts where I was in the court house every day and covered a bank robbery and a couple of murders, and the environmental beat, stuff with forestry and the indian tribes and salmon hatcheries."
"Gee Daniel have you left anything to do when you're old?"
"Well, I could get my degree. And I've never been to sea."

Sep 8, 2004

Let the radiator boil

hang on st. christopher on the passenger side
open it up tonight the devil can ride
hang on st. christopher now don't let me go
get me to reno got to bring it in low
        - Tom Waits

Sep 6, 2004

Into sand

My vision of this Labor Day is an empty beach battered by storms slung out up along the Atlantic’s edge by the hurricane, rain battering down, the sea unsettled and raging up on the camel-colored sand stretch abandoned by the Jersey girls and the sunshine seekers and the last vacationers and the crowds for this secular sabbath, left to the opening skies of falling water and empty to the violence drumming itself upon the ground. The beach is empty to the storm, with only me standing there for the last of the weather-rage in the lash and froth of water on the rasping sand.

It’s September and the last of the summer’s wearing out. The college-stickered cars with out-of-state plates circle into my gas station asking for directions to the school and the Wal-Mart and the IHOP. I remember Hillsdale with September, skies blue and the smack flip flops, days with long evenings of shorts and jackets, everything cooling out into the fiery colors of fall. This is Hillsdale’s month of glory, when you meet new friends and re-meet old ones and no one has yet slipped with the overload of it all under the wheel of that since-1844 depression, when up-all-night hasn’t been translated from a foreign pleasure to a familiar chain. Here is the time when the syllabi are still in working order, not yet laughed-out monuments to the folly of plans, when you still get to class five minutes early and can talk about the possibilities of opening the world with questions that might be asked, might be studied, before the hope of coherence hasn’t reeled away in reality. I call feel the call there, as persistent and unarticulated as a bird’s feeling the time to move, to set out, go back, feel it down in the bottom of my stomach where all I can say is I’ve been thinking about Hillsdale.

But even as I look at my truck pointing out to the Hillsdale road, ready in it’s unavoidable green, even as the migratory devil sets up shop on my shoulder saying move, move, I remember the growl the scowl the squint of untouchability I had to have, I’d have to have, to get off the turnpike at exit 13 and make that turn past the most popular fair on earth and up that little towered hill.

Even then I remember the scam that I always was and had to be to that place and don’t know that I’m ready for even a weekend of those recalled ghosts in the looks of admiration and the looks of spite. And even out here, pieces of the place are coming out to me in half stories of they broke up, maybe he likes her, expelled, goth freshman, in the street, half keg, slapped in the face, no more again, and I know I’m not ready yet, can’t go yet and don’t want those keys back even though and as I know now the place is mine and I am its, know that I’ll go back if I can in a return from this banishment of mine.

I’m being given things here, in this Philly year, here where here leans out into the dark of the future and way out’s always unclear, things I couldn’t have taken before. Some of them I’ll tell you about, maybe, when we sit in a circle on the porch and testify with scars and stories, and maybe some I won’t tell you about. Maybe some I couldn’t say.

For today, at least today, I couldn’t say but maybe you could see, would see and come with me into the storm thrashing out the shore, watching as the divots left by tanning toes fill with the rain, as the hurricane dumps itself into the emptiness of sand.

Sep 2, 2004

This tall to ride

Please advise (the critics can't decide and I don't know which ones to trust) should I buy Firey Furnace's Gallowsbird's Bark or Blueberry Boat?

And perhaps something the critics don't understand is the glory in a Napolean-sized failure.
In the not speaking

The theme to a story I haven't written:

silence inhaling
silence exhaling
and the choice between them.

Aug 30, 2004

Something simple something everything

She had a nightmare, she says, of me laughing. And she laughs at her slyness, at her teasing, 10-years-old and wearing Easter’s bow. He laughs too hard at a throw away-line of mine until his wife comes in with a two syllable han-ha laugh and the kids want to hear again the impersonation of Joseph in jail doing his late night call-in dream-interpretation radio show.

Her hand’s on my shoulder as she says something simple something everything as if there’d never been anything to forget.

Good-bye Daniel, they say, as if afraid I’d get away before they got it in, before they got in to me. Thank you, she says, as I stand on the stairs and wonder what, ever, they could owe me and wondering when between the un-slept days of giving offense, of growling and snarling through, of being fought and hated and despised then, and now, when how I became likable.

So I smile in the sweetness of my silence, still within the raining of their cacophony. Thank you, I say.
3 short reviews of good films

      Great tones of sweetness and irony. Graduate-esque about going off the medication and accepting sadness. Some excellent acting, music.

      Absolutly stunningly beautiful. Warriors learn stoicism, the power of martyrdom. Plus: music, go, calligraphy. Minus: crass American viewers.

      The the of hip. Oversold to me (my own fault) but still very good. A fascinating basic self-subverting theme of comfort/awkwardness. Some excellent work. Bill Murray, Tom Waits, Jack White, etc. Minus: It's read hard to go to a diner after seeing this movie and not act very weird.

Aug 28, 2004

Mau mauing me

Leonard comes in every day. Between 2:25 and 2:40, he’s there with his list of lottery tickets that comes up costing $22 and then he adds one, thinking maybe I think that fate won’t know he’s betting on a number if it’s not on the list.

Every day he’s there and I have his numbers almost memorized. I hold his list in one hand like a prayer, typing it out with the other hand, fingers running, ‘round the keys sideways for 456 and backwards for 654, doing a double step down is case the answer’s generous and a quick peck up in case it’s not like he asked. Every day he comes in and I hold and type his hope for luck, his numbers, thumping the send button and rocking on my heels while the lotto machine rattles up to $22 and he doesn’t say much past how’re you, not normally more than that, and just smiles.

I think he looks glad to see me, when he smiles, but then he leaves it there, not quite letting it fade out, leaves it there until maybe it’s a sneer, a condescension. His shirt says granddad a couple, three times a week, though I’ve never seen anybody with him, just him rolling in a new red SUV and standing there and letting his smile go stale to a sneer.

He left his wallet, one day, and I saved it for him. I opened it carefully to look at the driver’s license and tried to find him in the phone book. I left it behind the counter for him with a rubber band ‘round the outside with his name noted down. He said thanks and I said sure, next day at the appointed time when he gave me his list. He said you didn’t expect that anymore and I said you gotta trust people. He smiled and I smiled and it was, I thought, pleasant passing comradery.

And then today.

Today I woke up before my alarm and sat outside on the stoop watching the oak tree and listened to a bluesy-folk version of Dylan unexpected on the radio and I tried to match my voice to the gravely velvet of this New Orlean’s guitarist I’d never heard of before. He was tapping his feet and quick triple picking the guitar mellow and the whole way to work I pattered my fingers on the steering wheel and remembered to remember his name. 2:30 came and Leonard was there with his list and a scratch off ticket from yesterday.

This isn’t a winner, I said.
It says free ticket, he said.
I don’t see where you’re talking about. If it were a winner it’d say here in the code.
What’re you blind?
Not a winner said the machine. Do not pay out.
You’re just supposed to give me a free ticket, he said, getting loud and looking over back at the line behind him lined up for luck.
Look, I said, it’s just not a winner I’m not tryin’ to hassle you.
Well that’s what you’re doing, he said. HASSLING me.

And everyone looked, looked through slitty eyes and shuffled their feet at the nice old black man being hassled by the white kid with his machine and what’s he think he’s doing not giving the man his ticket, he says it says free ticket. What was that look he gave them that they saw a free speech saint, Democratic Man smiling smugging for his rights for not be trampled over by some green machine says he didn’t win, some kid with a Texaco emblemed collar shilling shitting for the state for the rules for the business that’s eating the old man’s dollar?

For a minute I thought about how I didn’t care - one dollar – I’d give him the ticket and then I thought about looking at the little slot on the sheet at the end of the night said I if was all right and how I’d be taking this dollar out of my pants pocket and giving it away. Just a dollar, I thought, and he smiled.

He smiled smug and sneering un huh yeah he was getting his and I thought what about him saying thank you and me saying trust and four months of numbers between us and now, here suddenly, I’m white, I’m the enemy, I’m the bad luck symbol the unfair slight of the world and the people in line said un huh he’s getting his and I thought goddamn it, you can’t mau mau me.

I gave his ticket back to him. I gave him his money, dropped it on the counter – didn’t explain, didn’t say Hey Leonard relax or say my collar’s blue or that this wasn’t The Man this was me. I flicked his money down and it slid out across slow over the edge, off and fluttering to the floor.

You throwing my money, he said, he demanded, loud with his anger.

I shrugged.

Aug 23, 2004

Sick day

I sound like I'm talking through a cotton ball.
My stomach only stops curdling to give my head a chance.
My mouth tastes like numb metal.
My throat wants to come out and eat me.
On Tuesday's

Her hands jammed in jean pockets as she leans back.
One freckle on her neck.
Feet crossed on the dashboard in the sun.

And I think I'd throw slow, a flaming box of matches underhand, to burn it all down. I think I'd smell her hair, and wouldn't care, with a smile I think I'd drive out straight to the desert and let the sun beat me all to hell. I think I’d give it all away all up to her, letting it come back in the rain down in rhythms and rivulets, into pools that spill themselves out into the little rocks of the sand.

I wouldn't. But I think I might.

Aug 20, 2004

Just can't see

I’m not blind, he said. I’m not blind. I just can’t see.

And he laughed. Mr. Jones they called him, his blue eyes distance-staring, black head back holding the note to a laugh and laughing sending wrinkles down south his cheeks, his weather brown lips pulling up over chipped china teeth parting pealing laughs into the blind-bound world of Mr. Jones.

I grinned, but he didn’t see me so he said it again.

He said it again and I laughed.

"Not all postmoderns are libertines. Some are guilt-ridden nihilists."

"God will forgive me. It is his specialty."

Aug 18, 2004

Standing in line to lose

George is playing Tunk on the trunk of the Cadillac in the street, cards spread on a towel, playing for fives and tens and the neighborhood guys stand around talking loud and teasing brave. He swears at his five of spades, rubbing his hand through his curly hair and grinning goddamns and they all laugh, him standing there in his khaki work shirt and untied boots.

George comes to the gas station every day, after work. His name isn’t George but Parnel or Pernel or something but his shirt says George Allen Sewage and every day he comes into the gas station to swear at the daily numbers I mark up permanet black.

Numbers, he says numbers.

He says he should give them up and I say he should give them up and just swear at the board every day, keep the excitement and save the money. But quitting isn't winning and he just comes in every day with his losing grin, his laughing-at-himself grin and curses at me and the state of Pennsylvania, at himself and his numbers, at the numbers that didn't come out and did come out and almost came out.

They know the number’s you play, he says. I gotta give up these numbers.

It’s rigged,
he says, me nodding from behind the green machine waiting to type his tickets for tomorrow because maybe, maybe they'll drop this time crack this time, waiting to tap the tickets for luck for hoping for a break.

It’s rigged, I say, from my dropout gas station, red rag wiping at red-topped counter again. Everything’s rigged.

Man told me the other day he promised he’d quit. By this Monday because he knows he’s addicted. Thinking of the numbers before he moves from his pillow, before the alarm goes back still into the gray of morning shading in, before the shower stops gobbing spits of cold water down the porcelin drain. That's when you know you're addicted, he says. So he's out. 'Sposed to quit by this Monday and be done with it all but, damnit, now he’s won three times this month and what’s he gonna do? Stop when he’s finally cashing in?

Ain’t no good for the poor boy, Jim always says to last night’s numbers, his wrinkles running blacker, white eyes wide and his numb-tongued West-Virginia voice guessing at the sleight of the spin of the government-run roulette wheel of numbered balls dropping always almost.

One two two, super straight a dollar, he tells me, one two two. One se’n two, fiftyfifty, one se’n two. One se’n three, fiftyfifty, one se’n three. Two quail, dollardollar, two quail.

But they ain’t no good, ain’t no good for the poor boy.

Aug 17, 2004

Ecceliastic numerology
for my high church friends and others similarly afflicted

It takes three bishops to ordain a bishop or, I understand, 40 priests. Thus 13.333 priests equal one bishop, 13 being the number of the 12 apostles (St. Matthias replacing Judas) plus Paul. Apostolic succession, we say, passes through bishops.

So, could apostolic succession be passed via the laying on of hand's by 13.333 priest's or, I don't know, by 13 priests, a deacon and a layman?

Aug 14, 2004

Just heard on NPR:
The hurricane is big and it's dangerous.

Aug 13, 2004

Damning dichotomies

Sinfest brings us a comic revisitation of the platonic preference for existence, which reminds me I'm confused about creation ex nihilo.

If in the beginning, before creation, there was God and nothing, if nothing can be defined as not-God, doesn't that give us a dualism? How can we have an eternal outside-of-God and not lose the Christian God to a gnostic or manichean half of an eternal struggle (in this case a struggle between existence/nothing)?

But if, instead, we say that God is more than existence and that nothingness is subservient to God, created by God, is not nothingness (and that which was created out of nothingness) within and therefore a part of God? Which is, is it not, pantheism?

So- If creation happens outside of God, dualism; if inside, pantheism.

Bumper sticker:

long live paper and scissors.
cast & heave

Aug 10, 2004

Me, more or less

The bar tenders have their collars turned up like greasers and the waitresses have southern accents and dimples. Yeah, says the guy leaning his suit jacketed elbow on the pay phone talking into his cell phone hand, I’m in the Cincinnati airport which is like in Northern Kentucky or something.

I dial my pre-paid calling card, 1 for English, the area code for the area west of Seattle between the mountains and the sea, get my family’s tape machine and say the layover’s been longer.

Keep your bags with you at all times, says the electronic lady-voice, so I sling the duffle bag over my shoulder, roll up the sleeve of my jean jacket again and wander down the terminal through the magazine stand, read the time off a stranger’s faceless watch as he flips through the Halle Berry issue, and wander down the terminal grinning at the kid playing ball on the escalator and the girl who looks more sad than pretty.

I throw away a paper cup and my gate seems a little empty. James Silly-man? says the guy at the counter. S-i-l-l-i-m-a-n? James Silliman. I slide my bag on the linoleum floor and pull my boarding pass from the ink-blotted pocket.

Yes? he says.
You were just spelling my name into the phone, I say. You’re James Silliman?
Sure, and hand him my ticket.
Well let’s go.

He scans my pass through the machine looking more like a habitual ritual of modernization than a war on terror and I walk down to the plan where babies look from laps, business men tussle with magazines too wide for coach seats and stewardesses take roll of pillows.

If James Silliman is on the plane will he please ring his call button, says our pilot as I steer my duffle bag down the belly isle of the over-crowded sky-whale and he can pronounce my name, so maybe he can fly.

Hey, I say to the short stewardess stretching for the open door of the overhead bin. That’s me he’s asking for.

Oh, she says settling from tippy toes, arms resting raised in a hallelujah against the ledge of the bin. You’re James Silliman?

Looks like it, I say.

Which is how I lost my first name in an airport that can’t decide if it’s Ohio or Northern Kentucky. Which is kinda like losing your heart in San Francisco but a little sadder.
These people & the art of clerk

“Hey Boss,” they call me. Working the counter without a nametag, working with guys named Joe, John and Dave, I’m selling gas, tea and Coke, rolling lists of lottery numbers and candy bar prices with the station-clerk patter of “how’s it going” and “good luck” and “have a good night.”

I tell them stories I’ve heard and lived and made up. I befriend them. Make this one grin and that one laugh. Just making these people like me.

A few of them know my name, the woman who asked and the neighbor who saw me in the street and the guy I loaned three dollars, and the rest of them just make themselves comfortable, settle in and say hey.

Dude, they say, Man, Brother, Chief, Bud, Buddy, Mac. Gov’na, said a cool one. Pal, said a salesman.

For a while there were Chief days and Boss days – not that I could tell why which days were which – and then everyone settled on Boss.

“Hey Boss,” they say now, truck drivers, retirees and cabbies, highschoolers and mothers and nurses, the black kid and the Korean grandma and the wrinkled Italian. “How’s it going Boss?” they say, counting quarters to gasoline and reading the kabala of winning numbers, grabbing a soda for lunch and getting directions to the turnpike.

The career planner thinks I’m a dropout, the IRS a clerk. Former friends think I’m dead, former acquaintances I’m a failure, former enemies I’m provenly incompetent. But to these people I’m a wit, a wag, the guy who tells a story and sells you a line, can help you calm you save you serve you. To these people I’m the boss.

Writing is style.

Aug 5, 2004

Waiting wanting
for the morning raining on the ditch-walking dog,

words washing out to the window’s darkened picture of my face.

Aug 4, 2004

The First Vice

A stack there of prayer books and old family bibles and theology in the antique shop on the main street side street closed with boards crossing the window where we looked through into the dark. Prayer books, we said, tantalized, grinning tantalized.

There was an organ in there, three pianos and assorted old furniture, tools and shelves of glass. And books. We wanted the prayer books and the theology books. Scatted there were Graham Greene novels and the works of Conrad and histories of the Irish revolutions, as buried in a field. Closed, the sign said, and then later: Call Michael and later Auction.

We went that Saturday, the old man sitting downstairs a little quiet and little sad talking about sicknesses and surgeries with the dealers muttering price sheets and the wrinkled wearing-barn-boots men hooking thumbs into pockets. The auctioneer stood on his stool, boot heels knocking for luck, shouting old-fashioned help-your-neighbor capitalism in a performance half revival, half rock, readjusting his mesh-backed ball cap, sweating on the brow and asking does he hear hundred fifty. I signed my name for a number 83 remembering back the way the mountains looked when an auctioneer’s daughter wore sunglasses and that auctions are about not making eye contact.

So, he asked me when it was over, you wanna start a bookstore.
Shee-it, I said, it might be the only thing I know how to do.

The books are spread now like continents drifting on carpet, stacked thigh high, shoulder if you’re short, ink seeping into the aging-paper air of Apt. C rear. One thousand, we say. Give or take a few hundred.

Two shelves and two and a half truck loads of books for $45: decades of novels re-read some and some forgotten, travel guides to South America, libraries of priests and pastors, sex education and financial advice in a serial of modern updates, sorority handbooks from Amherst, Latin primers and three copies of How to be a Mortician.

I piled them up to my chin, moving them from basement to truck, truck to apartment while friends laughed loving our intoxication and the neighborhood children sat watching on the slide graffitied Hey Buddie!, watching us white and this the greenest of bookmobiles, and dared each other to go, take a book. Then coming, they carried a few, climbed into the truck and told us their names, careful not to stand on the books, taking cookbooks for their mothers. Ooooooooo, said the other children, walking around into our alley, gonna teeeeeelllll but the kids pointed out the bibles, the Why Jesus Came (for Children) we’d given then, said we were nothing but ghetto scholastics, bachelor monks working out our salvation where sweat swirled with book rot on our chins. A few, the jaunty-walking Anthony Thomas and the speech-impeded Megan, ventured inside to return telling of the St. Michael on the wall, the Madonna with naked angels and the bull fighter in red, yellow and orange, to read Suess’s Oh! The Places You’ll Go and ask if they could take it home. A first grader in need of a hair cut tucked Sex and the Contemporary Christian under his arm until I made him admit he didn’t know if he was a contemporary Christian and told him that, actually, I needed that book.

Our friends came over every night for a week – ticketless circus featuring freaks without a Ferris wheels – sitting on the floor where the books towering teetered, inhaled, and smiled. They read Highway Blonde, The Black Cloud, The Other Woman, and Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to New York, quoted Methodist advice from ’57 (try sleeping on your back) and the biography of Padre Pio.

He read the bible in German. I read the mass in Latin.

Im Unfange war das Wort, he said. Und das Wort, war bei Gott, und Gott war das Wort.

Itta missa est, I said. Deo gratias.
Among the psueds, niks and disgruntled sons of the moral majority:
Posting into the silence

Peter Krupa in Costa Rica.

My Cassidy in "an improvised but effective farmboy's imitation of a rain dance."

Resistance, blood and suckers, or, the post-Prizio Hillsdale Bloggers list.

A begat-litany of Silliman houses (for me, 12 homes, if you include Kaweah, the Nelson's, and Ohio, in 22 years and still hittin'-the-road-Jack).

Jen Perkins as a blog.

The Parousia of Sarah Hatter.

Also (always) Amy's tourist's guide to K-mart birds, talking trees of God, & doors.

Aug 1, 2004


Other brothers divided bedrooms. We divide the world.

Jul 31, 2004

Francis Crick, rest in peace.

Jul 29, 2004

Anthony Thomas

"My name's Anthony Thomas," said the 7-year-old black boy standing in the back of my truck.

"You're Keith," said his friend.

"Anthony Thomas," he said.

"Na unh," said his sister, "your mama named you Keith Oliver."

"Anthony Thomas," he said as if it were a dare, as if he were the only authoirity on his name, as if this was his hoisted flag.

"Why you lieing?" said his friend.

They just stood there looking at each other and at the self-proclaimed Anthony Thomas, not knowing what he was talking about.

"I'll call you Anthony Thomas," I said. "It's a good name."
3 disparate mentors
Part of an ongoing series of a weird legend

When I write I think most often of what I've learned from 1) Jack Kerouac, 2) Martin Heidegger and 3) Graham Greene.
These were the times of ugliness when he loved her. - Graham Greene, The Heart of the Matter.

Jul 23, 2004

Re-occuring dream sentence: Wicked witch of the west with flowers.

Jul 21, 2004

Briefly taking a technologically enforced hiatus.

Jul 19, 2004

Love and Money 1 and 2

"Does anyone have five dollars?" I say.


"That man's selling roses for five dollars a bunch," I say.

Any maybe they don't have a five or have all loaned me too much money anyway but no one says anything and all of them look at me with a wonder of what, really, I would do with a bunch of cut roses and so we roll past the rose-selling man sitting on his overturned bucket, blue tee shirt stretched to fading over his sagging stomach, ball cap pulled down casting shadows down to his cigarette shedding ashes from the corner of his mouth.

"I've seen my future," I say and they laugh at me, at him.

"You'll be selling bunches for seven," they say.

"Far be it from me, to stand in the way of love and roses," I say, "I'll be selling for three."

They scratch lotto tickets as lovers, in the car in the rain.

He runs in to buy a few and then she runs in to buy a few. He has a little brown goatee and a painter's cap. She has a short shirt showing a smooth midriff and a tattooed bouquet of flowers.

"Trying our luck," he says.

"Trying to hit it big," she says.

"What happens if you hit it big?" I ask and she giggles a lilting giggle.

"I don't know," she says, "I guess we'll see." And she sprints out through the rain and I see her laughing as she takes a penny and rubs off the gaudy greens and yellows and the garish graphics of cash to see if this ticket is it, if this one is the hit.

She sees me watching through the wet windows and smiles, wanting, I think, nothing.

Jul 18, 2004

You know
A Queen of diamonds at an angle upon the sidewalk.

'You've known it all the time I'm learning it these days' Dylan says.

Jul 15, 2004

now show your teeth, bray like a calf/then kill me with your machine gun laugh
New Tom Waits album, Real Gone, due out Oct. 5 with songs about "politics, rats, war, hangings, dancing, automobiles, pirates, farms, the carnival and sinning. Mama, liquor, trains and death.
Pumping gasoline into the collapsed veins of the fading American dream
Thoughts at randomn

Why do people yell at clerks? I make $7 an hour and have nothing to do with your car so go to hell.

Multiple tornados have been sighted in the county and one may be headed towards my gas station.

I never found the question interesting before, but what does it mean artistically to be American?

I want to defend Hillsdale against defamation, but I don't go there anymore and arguing with libertarians is worthless.

Cheney is so evil it's downright steroypical. Edwards is the only candidate I'd actually hang out with.

There are certain people who should try and bring the powdered wig back in style.

National Review's first accomplishment was defining the kooks out of Conservatism. What they failed to understand, then, is that paranoia raises money.

"I'll tell you what's going to happen. This country's going to become part of Spain." "Spain?" "They already have the southwest." "Don't you mean Mexico?" "They're Spanish aren't they?"

I feel bad for Nixon.

I like the colors of Westerns.

My younger brother says, re: his Catholic girlfriend, I should know that girls always make more sense than older brothers.

Another brother of mine has a mohawk.

Mona Lisa is pretty much exactly the same when viewed in person, Pollock's paintings are extremely more interesting when viewed in person.

I'd like to see a literary aestetic based on "exhausting lauguage."

What if Impressionistic works had caused pregnant women to miscarry?

Buckley and Crosby should tour together as cranky old men.

Schaffer was Protestantism's last hope.

I prefer the spellig "tsar" to "czar" even though I like zs. I have no idea how to pronounce "pn" or "kp."

If only dada would save us.

When faced with continuing and excessive rudeness, I become friendly as a form of cynicism.

Jul 14, 2004

Aesthetic wanted:
Punk that’s grown out of the gobbing posturing mohawk-ed juvenilia of angst, but still strips the music to its energy, still kicks out jams. Post-angst punk, what punk should’ve been, with the violence, rage raw and ritual, with the bare aesthetic.

Something that remembers the blues, the spirit of Beethoven's uproar, the palate of the American outlaw. Something like Uncle Tupelo and like The White Stripes:

I can’t explain it.
I feel it often,
every time I see her face,
but the way you treat her
fills me with rage and I
want to tear apart this place.

You try to tell her what to do
and all she does is stare at you
her stare is louder than your voice
because truth doesn’t make a noise.

Jul 13, 2004

Ambler Letters 2
Correspondance exerts from apt. c rear

If writing is taking a piece of steel and turning it into a blade, I'm always over-sharpening, grinding and grinding until I have not a blade but a neddle. Can't cut anything but give damn good tattoos.

A double fisted fear: On the one hand, my philosophy may stagnate. On the other hand, the more I push forward the less I can talk to people. I described the job of philosophy prof. to a 9-year-old girl the other day as “teaching people to ask questions.”

The Muse/Maid division is still in working order, since you’re wondering.
      I don’t even need to send this letter, but probably will.

If I wanted out of this I would become a priest. I would hide in some small town where only old women were pious, pretend not to be very educated w/ my library hidden away in an upstairs closet and live alone w/ a little woodshop where I carved icons. I'd spend a lot of time in a garden and keeping up the graveyard. I'd tell stories without points for homilies and become an old man, if not in peace then in silence.
      But I would know, whe a too-refined young man said too-comforting words over my dirt, when friends of friends commented remarked how well I was doing, when the closest to me thought I'd found finally safety, I would know I had abandoned my priesthood, that I had failed to bleed ink, that the tears and been stilled and the prayers cut off by the priest's collar.

Why am I here, you ask. I don’t know. I guess, because I’m waiting. I’m waiting for something to tell me it’s time to be somewhere else. It’s a wilderness, a desert, a waiting to find something or be found by something. I’m writing a little. Reading a lot. (87 pgs of Pound’s biography today). Reading things I haven’t had the chance to before and trying to write and starting to pay off the $5000 before they’ll give me transcripts. Thought these feel like wilderness work, rather than active preparations. Still, a man must choose his wilderness and this was far enough and strange enough. I don’t know what’s next. “My Life” has gone all vague, sounding more like something I’m telling people so they don’t bother me and less like something I’ll actually do. So I’m waiting for something to break, something to separate the present from the future. I don’t know, maybe it will be an offer, a book, a girl, something I’m writing…
      So I’m just waiting. I don’t know if I’m proving that you can’t run away or that you can. I don’t know if I’m learning more about myself or forgetting what I know.
      It is, I think, a time to break down. So I’m letting everything go to see what comes back. I’m shoving off.

Jul 9, 2004

What I will never resign myself to is pulishing anything other than postcards

What counts then is that it is still up to us to exhaust language.

and here I am again standing up to write you, standing right in the street, so often standing, incapable of waiting.

        - Derrida, The Post Card

Jul 8, 2004

When we were saying shouldsters

There were only a few words to every page because, ostensibly, that’s all a child can read and as reading increases so do the words per page until it doesn’t matter that pg. 134 ends with to be re- and 135 starts membered. Ostensibly. But what children’s books had that we didn’t notice and were hyper-hopping on the couch to get past without knowing what we were throwing away was pacing.

If you remember to ask me what’s the difference between prosaic and poetic, I’ll ask you to remember what we didn’t know then in our books childish with pictures and simple suspended surprises: concern for the pace of a sentence.
Words on the mirror

I don’t remember when I first pushed someone away not from fear but from concern for their well being, when I saw that the same gravity drawing in is a gravity with power to crush and mangle, but it’s become a habit.

How could I accept your forgiveness? You’re willing to, what?, half-erase my faults, leaving them secrets waiting to be re-discovered and actually secrets already known and waiting, holding till tomorrow? What will you do? Forgive me three times before the cock crows?

Up to half my kingdom, the emporer says. And so we friendships value, I think, in what we’re willing to give. But nothing costs so much as walking away. And I’m always walking away.

Jul 6, 2004

And thiry-five cents is your change

When I drop change into a customer’s hand there's this brief brush, a momentary touch as my unfolding fingers rest in their upturned and open palms.

It’s a momentary touch, but in my world of where physical contact consists of a few handshakes a week, it’s almost electrically shocking. I could set the change on the counter or drop it into their hands from above, but find myself, without planning, feeling the texture of palms and fingers. It’s intimate and yet anonymous, strangely ordinary.

I thought I’d learn something about humanity, about types of people by types of hands. But apparently hands are rough or smooth, cold or warm, soft or calloused and without regard to sex or race, class, age, style or occupation. It doesn’t make any sense that the construction worker’s hands are soft and the girl’s are rough, the mom’s hands cold and the old man’s warm, the lawyer’s calloused and the bus driver’s moist. I don’t know, there doesn't seem to be any meaning in it, just these human hands I seem to want to touch.
dollar bill snap
      when you haven't slept

Jul 5, 2004

Re-verb 1

When even -
      Even when.

Wherein (when?) apology even confession.

When even even when -

Even when...
Thank you, Nabokov, for a simple description of a sick boy trying to discover the pattern of flowers on the wall paper.

Reading Pnin

Jul 4, 2004

Son of a storyteller

I think technically they’re laughing at me, but I’m trying to make their laughter harder.

I probably should have left – the last guest and it’s dark and the coffee’s been gone for an hour. I shifted in my chair. My family’s always had trouble leaving, enjoying people and laughter too much to remember not to overstay.

Tell us a story, she said, short blonde 9-year-old hair falling to her eyes. Yeah, said her brother.

I settle back. Grin. Wink. And started an old one about a riding lawn mower and then went into the runaway horses. Now the father’s bending over with slapping-the-couch-laughter and the kids have big eyes in their little faces with grins they can’t control and the daughter’s telling me to “tell my mom the story about the horses.”

Jul 3, 2004


Marlon Brando, rest in peace
Staring through an empty water glass

Friends who should have called, haven’t. I owe too much money to too many people. My parents are mad at me. My knuckles are skinned from punching the metal door of my boss’ office after hours. And I can’t write.

The spaces are growing longer between writing and when I do write, what I write comes like a little dirt shaken loose by pounding my head into a wall. It’s been weeks since any writing came easily, weeks since I felt that fire move in my typing fingertips.

I find myself staring through an empty water glass. For no particular reason, I remember waking up in Fargo behind a car wash, smelling of sweat and shaking of cold. The gas station’s coffee curdled in my stomach and clerk looked lonely, lost and bleary.

I squint, and watch these words spider down the screen. Everything seems contrived. It all seems flat. I can’t hear the way these word sound anymore. I think maybe the words on this page are laughing at me, sentences snickering at my pain, chortling at my effort.

This isn’t about compliments or affirmation. The compliments say they’re enjoying it, say write more, say fantastic. But I’m not listening. I’m not reading my sentences over aloud to my dim kitchen, feeling the word rolls off my tongue, watching bugs batter the light bulb and knowing that these words, these words right here, are true.

“Did you see her light up when you started talking?” said my friend. “Did you see her follow every word?” he said.

“Yeah,” I say, tired, staring through the water glass. “It doesn’t mean anything.”

I think this is when people quit writing. When others are praising their words saying things like “top of the game” but they can only hear their keyboards making reverberations dull on the inside of their skulls. I think this is when people decide just to live for a while, to watch a movie and go to bed. To read an old novel again. Get a girlfriend or get a career or buy a bottle.

I don’t know how to do that though. Like a disappointed disciple I’m despairing that the kingdom will ever come, but I have nowhere, really nowhere, else to go.

So, I’m writing out deadlines on the calendar. I’m pushing back.

In the morning I heard the neighbors preaching about our sins being covered in the blood of Jee-zusss (Amen!) and I opened the door of apt. c rear to let in the morning light and the sounds of black gospel preaching. I’d heard what he was saying before, word for word it was lifted from every tangle of four Roman roads, but I listened to the sonorous roll, to the ends of sentences and the lift of words. I heard the amens crowding in and watched his paragraphs sleight from judgment day to today and listened to the name of God’s extended syllables. I remembered how much I love language, returning anew to these reverberations of mine, to the stories, to the colors of the words I want to write.

The church ladies are waiting gossiping in front of the green lotto machine for my shift to begin because, they say, I only sell lucky numbers.

Jul 1, 2004

Stages of life
Outrageous overheard comment of the week

Middle aged woman on a cell:
"Yeah liposuction. It seems every time I turn around one of us is getting something done. I guess we're just at that time in life."

Plastic surgeons were heros of WWI, and cosmetic surgery may be a democratic solution. My sister's writing about a different type of gorgeous old woman.
Intense blue

My dad was starting a church, but he preached his first sermon, an intense thing about communiuty and commitment (and tithing), and no one came back except my mom.

This is our shortest story about the character of my family.

I kind of like the one my blue-eyed father wearing blue-tinted contacts though.

Jun 29, 2004

Aporia philosophy:
        Looking for an opening.

Jun 27, 2004

Elbows on the tabe
My first lesson in the aesthetics of imperfection

Down on a violent double-curve in the too narrow road between here and the used-book store, a house juts out of the hills and trees to the pikeway and, today, had a table in the drive way with black sign saying FREE. Medium brown maple and four feet square, plain and worn, stain wearing through in the center, corners worn shiny by elbows, I turned around and shook it a little for sturdiness and took it, turned it upside down in the bed of my truck and took it home. It’s in the kitchen now, hanging lamp shining on the mellow brown, my arms resting on the firmness of real wood beneath the wall of friends photos and the county map with Orthodox churches marked by pins.

If I try and tell you about my family, I’ll probably tell you about our table and how we talked through every meal telling stories or doing theology and passing giant pots of noodles and serving from a massive centerpiece of a salad in a steel restaurant-sized bowl, how we’d always all eat together, loud and hand waving, and after dinner we’d ignore the towering dishes to tip back our chairs and talk. I’d probably forget, though, to tell you about the table itself.

My mom got it from her mom, the one year we knew her mom, when we lived in the Northern California suburbs. If furniture can shock, then this table shocked us. “What happened,” we said, standing in the kitchen a little amazed and confused, wondering if we should be frightened. “It’s distressed,” Mom said. “It’s a style. But maybe we’ll refinish it. Sand it all down and make it nice.”

What it looked like though, was attacked and beaten. It looked like someone – my grandmother – had beaten her table with a chain, a hammer and a wrench. There were valleys and craters and rough wiggling trails stained a deep dark brown, looking, more than anything else, like a pocked and cratered moon flattened into a table. Mom covered it with a tablecloth, for a while, leaving tufts of the fuzzy underside caught in the table’s roughness. She never did refinish it. We packed it across the country to Texas and back again, took it up into the mountains and down, had it in the woods and the hills and the deserts and the valleys and finally North to the peninsula at the end of the world.

It seated six, officially, but officially doesn’t count corners and we all sat there. Dad at the head and Mom and Val and my two– four– six brothers with ever longer legs kicking each other, talking loud and laughing in the precursor to the family reunions we’ll have. Maybe distressed was a style, but I’ve never seen another piece of furniture that looked so beat and lived, ‘nother table abused out of a tidy polished Platonic perfection and occupied by forks and elbows.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll take a tire iron and a crow bar and beat on this table until it’s amazing, confusing and maybe ought to be scary. Maybe I’ll pound a Pollock into this table and soak the wounds with a can of wood stain as a testament to laughing stories with mouths full of food, loud theology over dinner and winters you can only afford rice.
Words in the wrong order again

tripped over a dog in a choke-chain collar
people were shouting and pushing and saying
and when I traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar
a ridiculous marching band started playing
and got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song
won't you follow me down to the rose parade?
won't you follow me down to the rose parade?
won't you follow me down to the rose parade?
        - elliott smith

If he doesn’t answer
Genuflecting before the void

The mountains stood unmoved.

I screamed, 16 years old demanding one hill be moved into the sea, one leaf burn without being consumed, one moment of clarity, one moment of knowing. I wept, arms upraised pleading with the November sky to split in one sure assurance of divine existence. My prayers of tongues went out into the darkness of the foothills, a stuttering of angel nonsense, and fell into silence.

God said nothing. I’ll love you and serve you forever, I said. And God said nothing. I’ll sacrifice everything, I said. And God said nothing. One revelation, I said, or I won’t believe in you. And there was only silence. Heaven was silent and the mountains stood unmoved in mockery, cows chewing and grasses blowing unconcerned as I stood before the void of a dead God.

My father always told his story, one story, which we were raised on. He’d start with how organized crime consolidated the LSD market to this one pharmacist and picked my dad, a hustler on the street corners naming drugs in undertones, to be the only LSD dealer when it was the drug of choice. He’d talk about Holy Hubert, the aggressive street preacher who’d memorized the whole Bible and would stand on a box shouting about hell, who told my father he was going to hell every day for two years. He’d tell how policemen were guaranteed promotion for imprisoning my father, how he was arrested three times but never convicted. He’d tell about smiley beat cop who said God told him to protect my father, and the woman who thought she was a frog, and the bodyguards, Greek and Marty. Sitting at a table with new friends in a new town, my father would tell the long version of his story about how he’d been a drug dealer who’d been found by God.

We never heard the short version and knew every character and every character’s role, and would remind him not to forget the woman who thought she was a frog but was healed on hearing the name of Jesus while throwing Tarot cards on the table of the Baptist student union. I grew up on my father’s stories and every story, from him standing on the top of an escalator hoping his depth perception would return to the cops shooting without saying “stop or I’ll shoot,” lead to and ended at a Christian commune, waiting for a marriage, feeling weird religious feelings, reading a little box in the corner of a little newsletter that said:

IS GOD REAL? Why don’t you ask Him? If He doesn’t answer, you’re free to go on your way, but if He does then you must make Him Lord of your life.

Every story was one story ending with my father knowing. A woman overdosed on cocaine raised from the blue-veined dead in a weedy lot behind a church, and my father knew. He woke up from amnesia watching a basketball game in the hospital and my father knew. One of the bodyguards was found beheaded, and my father knew. Hubert was healed of point blank gunshot, bailed out his heckler and attempted assassin, and my father knew.

Which is all I wanted, standing beneath the November sky that refused to open – to know. I wanted a Cartesian ergo, a revelation to found my faith. I wanted my father’s faith for my own. So I looked, and saw darkness. I asked, and heard nothing.

Anselm said that if it’s good to exist, then an all-good God must exist. Pascal said the odds are in favor of God’s existence. But the absoluteness of the void, the totality of the closed sky, refuses to give odds or bow to ontology. If he doesn’t answer… If he doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t, answer. If he doesn’t answer then you’re free, the tract said.

My father’s other story, the story that wasn’t his story, that didn’t wend its way to that moment of peace, that wasn’t fit to tell at church gatherings and social functions, was a story of how the world had told him to curse God and die. He told me, in the dark of the van driving to East Texas trailers we were insulating in the winter, in fragments separated from the meaning and the package of the story, about resigning from the ministry, about his fellow pastor denying he knew him, publicly ridiculing his stupidity and zeal. About confessing sins to a church that just looked at you. About my brother’s hospitalization and how the only man to stand with him and cry was his atheist brother, because blood is thicker than faith. About how no one hires a former pastor and nights stocking grocery stores. About crying when the nominal Catholic neighbor loaned him a lawn mower, because it was the first gift in a long time that was freely offered. About how he’d come into my room and talk to me and cry, and I would pray four year old prayers and hold his hand, seeing death and doubt and looking, clear blue eyes that hadn’t learned to lie, into the void.

I don’t remember hearing my father’s doubt and pain, only the dreams that came later, dreams of blackness, dreams that seemed fulfilled in the foothills, when I was 16.

Deny God, said the mountains, he has said nothing to you. Curse it all, there is nothing, said the wind in the grasses.

If you don’t answer, I shouted. If you don’t if you don’t if you don’t answer, I shouted at the hills, then I’m free to go. And my voice broke. My words stilled, looking to the place where God was blotted from the sky, and I heard myself whisper a confession, did God owe me anything, even his existence?

Jun 25, 2004

The storm siren down the street doesn't sound like a storm siren, but a very lonely moose.

I'm always reading the backsides of compliments.

Jun 23, 2004

'Setting this world back again on earth'

Because multiple people have asked, the five writings I've been most influenced by in philosophy, which is to say, the five writings everything I'm doing philosophically is realted to, a tangent off, and birthed from are:

On Certainty, by Wittgenstein.
The preface to Phenomenology of Perception, by Merleau-Ponty.
First Attitude Towards Others, in Being and Nothingness, by Sartre.
Signiture Event Context, in Limited Inc., by Derrida.
The Origin of the Work of Art, in Basic Writings, by Heidegger.

(Listed roughly by increasing density.)

Jun 21, 2004

Hey brother, spare me your dime

If they'd say, even once a month, I don't know, that's an interesting question, maybe faith would be saved.
      But they've got 10 cent answers for everything.
Hair 22 in D

My hair's growing out. It lays down now brown with tinges showing it first sprouted blond.

I cut it in Ohio, from the college un-cut hanging shaggy over my eye brows and playing wild out from under my wool knit cap catching and tangling with middle American straw and hay to short hair, a violent buzz, a post-prison hair cut, the kind that comes free with a swastika tattoo. (Very funny, they say.)

Now it's growing out, laying down and not looking like anarchy on my head, but merely curious about where it's going, ends of hair playing with the edges of my ears. It's an indecision hair cut. It's I could go a lot of places but where hair.

Jun 20, 2004

Nice like that
What do you think?

She’s a nice girl.

Uhhhhn. What’s that mean?

Uhhhh. Well. I guess when I say a girl’s nice I mean either that she’s a wonderful and lovely person who’s not going to be in my life, but I feel better knowing there are these good people out there.


Or she’s a nice girl who’s fine, a good person, a decent human being, but so impoundingly dull that it’s not worth the pain to try for five minutes of an interesting conversation.

Yeah. Exactly.