Sep 28, 2005

Digging worms

A worm, the author says in a short sentence in a short story, was cut in half. That's all she says. Her character’s hearing things and crazy digging holes in the backyard and on the way digging down she cuts this worm in half, and that's all she says.

What? Wait, I say, she didn't notice? And she didn't, neither the author nor the character. She didn't notice the way both sides of a cut worm wiggle, the way the inside is gooey but doesn't bleed, the way you can't tell worm-up from worm-down but both sides nose back into the earth. She didn't notice the way worms look like little strung out accordions, bright pink with a few grains of dirt caught gritty on the shiny slime. The ways worms feel rubbery and not slimy, when you pick them up, and they don’t seem to have eyes or noses or mouths or ears.

Some people call them night crawlers, but only when they’re selling them for fish bait, and earthworms, when they’re for dissecting. But when they dig one up people just say worm - wurm, wurrm. - and never really "a" worm but always "the" worm. Like they were looking for it.

One day, when we were kids and it was raining, we became obsessed with worms. But we couldn't find any. We dug a hole in the backyard, a big wide hole with the rain wiggling down, making mud and a pool, although there were no worms. So we dug another until we had a series of muddy empty holes filling up with water. I wore the yellow raincoat and the mud boots that made me look like a hatless Mussolini. My brother wore the green coat with blue crocodiles. I dug and he dug and my sister dug and we never saw any worms, except the dead ones washing down the gutter.

We said if we found one, we should cut it in half so there’d be two.

Sep 26, 2005

Head-pounding writing

Stayed up until 5 a.m. trying to write this rough draft work and only managed to get out an ugly looking outline and write seven abortable half paragraphs. Selpt a little and then looked at it again this morning, glassy-eyed and feeling that weight settled down sad and frustrating. Went to breakfast. Sat alone.

But then this afternoon it began to rain. I unraveled an extension cord to take a laptop out to the porch and put on Coltrane and coffee. Started to put words on paper.

"There's a Hasidic parable told about Adam and Eve. On the day they were cast from the garden the sun set for the first time and as the world passed into dusk and then into darkness they were terrified, believing that their sin had set the world sinking into nothingness. They spend the night trembling in fear, eyes dilated to the darkness, looking each other in the face. For them there was now nothing, God had left them and the world had gone dark and there was nothing left but the face of the other."

Sep 25, 2005

Things I believe may save my soul:
unfinished notes on everyday incarnations

1. Stories.
2. Incense and hymns.
3. Wendell Berry.
4. Rain in the dirt.
5. Voices that sound like they’ve been dragged behind a truck.
6. People I don't know.
7. People I do know and like anyway.
8. Kitsch.
9. Doubting priests.
10. Failures.

Sep 21, 2005

Things you should read, if you haven't

My grandfather had been a house painter. As a younger man, he had taken the leftover cans of paint home and used them to paint pictures. He stacked the portraits in the garage, because the combination of colors gave them a slightly nauseating effect. Skin held a discomforting undertone of the Pepto-Bismo pink that was a popular house color in 1950's Florida. The blue contained a hint of neon. His art was painted with the colors of signs and shops, not people. When he died, nobody could bring themselves to keep the pictures.

I had not yet thought to qualify a person with a number, nor had I decided what year I might like to be.

It is not the worst thing in the world to be deceived. Sometimes, when you throw my ball, you pretend to throw it one place, and then, after I have charged off, you throw it into a different place — did you think I do not know? If I wanted, I could wait you out; I could disbelieve your throws, I could fail to be surprised. But it gives me joy, and my life is short, and I am willing to be made a fool by it. Is your life so long, will you gain so much by not being deceived?

My maternal grandfather came to visit for the first time in 15 years. I drove home from work, knowing he’d have arrived and found that there was nothing, nothing that I could say. I felt that nothing that could be healed, nothing that could say, or understand in one day, after 15 years. I set up a seal against him 15 years ago, an attempt to protect my mother by not caring that my grandfather had rejected us. As if not needing him, and not missing him would help her

Sep 20, 2005

Fly traps

It's disturbing. The image of amber-colored sticky swirls dangling from the ceiling looking like fruit roll-ups of death. You can hear the flies on them, buzzing, dieing, screaming the screams of flies struggling to escape death.

It's like having electric chairs hanging from the ceiling.

I've never touched a fly trap. I have the idea that if I did my hand would stick, that I too would be stuck, would never break free. I'd struggle and yell, first in surprise and in horror and then in frustration. Finally I'd yank the trap down and walk around with the sticky strap of dead flies with broken wings and pain-contorted faces hanging down from my hand.

Once when I was like 5 I was eating cold spaghetti for lunch when a fly came and landed on my parmesan cheese. Leaving little tracks. I was a kid and I'd heard that every time a fly lands it poops and throws up at the same time, which was gross but the way I figured it was the fly just wanted to eat. So I poured a little pile of parmesan cheese on the table for the fly. It didn't didn't seem to notice so I made it a little bigger and then a little bigger again until my mom came in and wanted to know why I was dumping cheese on the table. She hit the fly with a swatter that made a whistling whoosh before the slap.

We've been leaving the doors open here, or I have, and the flies have been flying in circles and landing tickling on our arms and faces. It's annoying, I think, but my house mates seem to think it's more than that and they've been cursing flies for a few weeks now. So Amber's here and she went and bought a half-dozen traps and hung them around. She's keeping a personal tally of dead flies, and since the packages advertise the 'odorless attracting power' she yells to the flies be attracted, be attracted, be enticed.

I shudder and she laughs at me, saying I'm squeamish.

Sep 16, 2005

Weekend goal: To stay in this room as long as possible and read as much as possible.

Update: Totally didn't reach my 72-hour reading (fantasy) goal, but I did get into Dennett's The Intentional Stance and plow through the applicable sections of Sutter's Interpreting Wittgenstein and Sokolowski's The God of Faith and Reason. Also took an Ann Arbor run with Luke and Ryan to see Metzger, won two out of three chess games against Annex Dan and two against a rather arrogant vet, listened to some music, ate some good food, and watched a few movies.

Sep 14, 2005

Henryk Tomaszewski, a poster designer who developed the Polish Poster School style, who opposed the Stalinist aesthetic with playful and expressionistic work, who was known for his gauche handlettering, died Sunday at the age of 91 from progressive nerve degeneration.

May he rest in peace.
When, O Cicero, do you intend to cease abusing our patience?

So I have, apparently, made a contribution to the study of Latin. What I did, see, was tell a joke.

I said that what Wheelock's needed was a villian. You've got Cicero-Ciceronis and he and his ilk are always going off on how one should avoid avarice and defend the repulic and it's all just boring. What we need is a good mustace-twisting villian. He could start with fairly tame villianious statements and get more and more wild and vicious. Every chapter you'd think, oh my, what will this left-handed enemy of wisdom and the republic say in the next chapter?

It was funny at the time and so I told a few more people a few more times and then the other day I told it to one of the Latin profs. He laughed and said was a good idea. Since Cicero is always talking about Catilina, saying he was "openly desirous to destroy the whole world with fire and slaughter" and stuff, he said, you could have the other side of the story, from the Catlinian point of view. And now he's apparently e-mailed some people and they think it's a good idea and are in talks about putting out a work book on the "dark side of Latin." I might even get a citation in the acknowledgements - and thanks to Daniel Silliman for telling a joke.

Sep 13, 2005

Certain places we go

I watched the sun burn red into her face around the sunglasses. Her dog looked at me. A bee crept down the white inside of a red plastic cup until it fell fluttering into old flat beer, making little rippling noises as it died.

Where do you want to go? she said. Not now, she said. Eventually. When you end up somewhere, where do you want it to be?

I had a friend once who dreamed about Pittsburg. He’d only been there once, stranded with a car swerved off the edge of some embankment and he staying a night with a friend of a friend and waiting for help. He woke up early in the morning and brushed his teeth and stole a glass of orange juice from the refrigerator. He took a sip, and remembered, wondering how he’d forgotten, that orange juice always tastes funny after you brush your teeth. So he went out, walking through the deserted factory district for a few hours before buying a cup of gas station coffee and going back. After that, on certain days, he’d talk about Pittsburg and how he’d like to go there, sometime.

She says she wants to go to Europe, spending a year here and a year there and then she’ll end in Tuscany. She says she guesses she’ll just have to marry rich and I laugh because she’s already married and living in a low rent apartment above a crazy lady neighbor who badgers other peoples children into chores, makes up gossip and sings old love songs to birds. The dog likes my laugh and comes to put his head over where I can scratch it.

My housemate downloaded this program, a digital map of the globe. He pulls back on the control, lifting lifting out from the ground and into thin space until he can see the earth as a blue circle on his screen, continents etched in green. He types in an address, and hitting enter we plunge down in, rushing in at a speed giving me vertigo. I see the mountain range spilling south towards the gulf and then the growing articulation of trees and rivers and buildings and we keep falling forward fast until I ask him if we will crash into the dirt and send up a digital puff of exploding dirt. He laughs, and the screen slows to a hover over a street corner covered in trees and he points to the intersection and says see, that’s where we live there. Later he’ll go to see the Himalayas and the contours of capitals and sites of world wonders but between each he will pull back up to see the circle and come in again to see our street corner from the sky.

The bee stopped and was still, floating upside down.

I saw the American desert a few times, just driving through. The first time we crossed at night to avoid the late summer heat and I heard the nightly rise of the wind that erases again the tracks of other days. I told myself, that night watching for the lights of little shacks with their short waves and their water piped in, the story of John the Baptist eating locust and standing in some desert river preaching a kingdom to come. The first summer of college we drove down there and I saw the sand and the sun rise over nine shadowed valleys and I thought that every morning looked like a resurrection.

Her dog yawned, head on my knee. I looked at the side of her face under the sunglasses’ shadow where the skin was white, around her eyes.

I think about the desert a lot, I said, even though that wasn’t really an answer to her question.
In this manner, part IV

I was fingering my rosary all day, before I got your letter.


Sep 9, 2005

Knowing it's over

I had a pair of black boots, back then, cowboy boots, but they blistered my heels and I never got another pair.

Cowboys, my dad said, didn’t mow lawns.

When they wore out, the seam splitting and pulling away from the sole leaving my white sock showing to turn green to the grass, I tried to fix it with a needle and black thread. I didn’t say anything so I wouldn’t have to throw them away and forced the needle back and forth through the leather and the sole, pulling the thread up tight and tying off a square knot. It broke when I tried to walk.

Gonna have to throw those away, dad said. Get you some real shoes.

It was Jesus Christ and John Wayne, or Eastwood and Cooper anyway. That’s what it was back then, to be a man.

Man riding through the West on some old horse with a gun and a bedroll and trying to mind his own business but being pulled in, for justice sake and getting in a scrape, pinned down behind a rock and surrounded.

I’ve kept those books around, a few of them stashed on the shelf, cheap books in cheap-back covers with torn corners and dull brown and yellow colors. They’re crowded up to the edge of the shelf, for a decade now pinched against the wood wall by better books. The spines are sun-faded now.

My roommate sees me, under the little lamp by the side of the bed, reading a paperback western with yellowed pulpy pages and wants to know why. Man wets his bandana, wipes his face and takes another pull for the bottle of whiskey, knowing it's over now, reloading his revolver and waiting for them to rush in.

Read these as a kid, I say, sometimes I pick one up. Whenever I’m sick I read one.

Are you sick? he says.

No, I’m reading.

So it's a sort of childhood thing, he says.

Bootstraps, I say. Honor and a gun. Respect and justice. Wandering the American West. Sin and redemption and getting by and being buried with your boots on.

It's pulp, he says.

Sep 7, 2005

There's power in the blood
and other notes

The man on NBC is sitting on his porch, the levee broken and his city underwater and everything down closed up for weeks now so he doesn't know how much was looted or who's been shot or how many are dead or what the governer or the president's said and the interviewer asks him how he's made it through. "Well," he says, "I've got Jesus in my heart and Indian in my blood."

My sister is in Austria now. The first of my family to leave North America.

I love the porch at the Beat. We sit there in the morning and in the evenings and all day, on the weekends. We wood-glued the rocking chair back together and moved most of the house's chairs out there, around the bench and the old couch.

Dream phrase: "I was walking down the road, as it were, if you will."

One American in five believes the sun revolves around the earth.

Harshest insult at the house: "Yeah, well, you look like Paul Giamatti."

I need to buy a Latin bible.

I reccomend Dick Hebdige's Subculture, the meaning of style to anyone interested in the sociology of subcultures and their dramatizations of the deconstruction of the tensions within culture.

Kelly's labor day photos.

If kitsch, as Kundera says, is a view of the world that cannot admit the existence of shit. And if kitsch is, aesthetically, shit. Then an aesthetic view of the world that will not allow the existence of kitsch is kitschy. Maybe. I'm still working with the troulbe with kitsch.

Sep 1, 2005

Listening to the can man

He talks to himself like he's crazy, picking up the beer cans that have fallen off our porch and pissing up against our dumpster. But what's disturbing is not the thought that he's crazy, but the thought that he's not. The disturbing thought, the thought that surprises us and sends us queasily into silently saying nothing, is that maybe somebody's there. Maybe casting Hitchcock-styled shadows on the wall behind us, just out of vision, around the corner, off screen.