Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Anatomy of a Poem

This is the journal drafting of Autumn's Effort (Revisited). The text that was crossed out during drafting is in brackets. Yes, I know the American spelling of gray is with an "a".

Drafting images

at the pool

The trees disembody
their [hands of light]
handspans of light
that brighten and fade as they
[twist] sing twisting to
the ground

[grey sky]

I'm walking on a sky of
glowing orange and yellow
pieced together by
clouds of light that hug and hold
each other in wetness

More drafting

There is no sun
above but only the grey
[sidewalk of sky] yet
thousands of suns [whisper] sigh to the
sky at my feet
handspans of light,
hugging and holding
in wetness

Dark [veins reaching] venous limbs
multiply toward the [pavement sky]
shifting grey pavement sky

[feathers falling]

sigh to the sky of wet
holding and hugging stars
blanketing beneath my feet

Draft 2
As dark venous limbs multiply
[upward] toward the tetonic [grey]
pavements [of sky above] of grey sky

handspans of light
sigh downward, dimming and brightening
[as they] in their spin through
what must feel like infinity

Draft 3[As] Venous limbs [multiply] strain
[toward the tetonic pavements of
grey sky] and multiply toward grey skies

handspans of light
sigh downward, [featherlight silence] each
a featherlight silence

an elegy
of [history] the history,
seed to sun

Draft 4Venous limbs strain and
multiply toward [grey skies] the grey sky


handspans of light sigh downward

each [of] a featherlight

a brief elegy
of the history,
seed to sun

Draft 5

Venous limbs strain
toward grey skies

perspiring handspans of light

[each sigh] a rippling downward
in featherlight silence

[brief] elegies
of seed to sun

Draft 6

Venous limbs strain toward
gray skies
and perspire hand-spans of orange light.

Each hand-span ripples downward
in feathery silence,

an elegy
of seed-to-leaf.

I finished this poem, posted it (as you know) and still didn't quite like it. So here is round two. I'm not going to illustrate the cuts because there's too many. Here are the uncut ideas.

Drafting images/thoughts

falling flame

each handspan a falling flame

what work rains falling flames

and endless desire to reach till afire?

What alchemy? Desire into fire?

What are you reaching for?

Reaching for infinity, crying tears of fire.

All effort aching for divinity rains falling flames

Aching for divinity makes flames of falling pain.

Does all aching for divinity rain falling flames?

Wrench desire into falling fire?

What desire cracks a seed

What desire cracks a seed and bleeds a tree

Upteenth draftMore brackets for cut text.

What [desire] longing swells a seed
and pains a tree [to force] to reach
with venous hands, [and] to
perspire handspans of
orange light?

Does all aching for divinity
[rain falling flames]
wrench pain into falling flames?

Upteenth draft and a half

What longing [swells a seed and
pains a tree] pains this tree
to reach with venous limbs,
to perspire handspans of
orange light!

Does all aching for divinity
wrench desire into falling fire?


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Autumn's Effort

What longing pains this tree
to reach with venous limbs,
to perspire handspans of orange light!

Does all aching for divinity
wrench desire into falling fire?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Autumn's Effort (draft)

Venous limbs strain toward
gray skies
and perspire hand-spans of orange light.

Each hand-span ripples downward
in feathery silence,

an elegy
of seed-to-leaf.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


A poem transcends the meaning of its words if conceived with a distinct feeling; transcends the feeling if conceived with a distinct image; and transcends all if the author does not interfere with its conception.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Euphoria. You'll
know you're near me because my
head hums like bees' wings.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


I have a friend who had learning problems in high school. He couldn't get the hang of a subject, I think it was math. A doctor discovered that his brain was underdeveloped because he had not crawled as a child; he somehow went from flopping around on the floor to walking. The doctor prescribed crawling. After a couple months of exercises, he never again had similar frustrations with the school subject.

His experience made me wonder how often I approach problems with my mind that can only be solved with a seemingly unrelated mechanical movement of the body.

When restless, I'll watch a movie or read a book or write a journal entry or smoke a cigarette or have a drink or surf the net or do any of a number of other head exercises that doesn't ease my restlessness. Sometimes I'll do none of the above, sit in silence, and think. This doesn't help either. Out of frustration with my thoughts and disgust for the mess in the kitchen sink, I'll do the dishes. Usually after doing the dishes I forget my frustration. Now I don't know if the cure has to do with the mechanical, non-thinking, repetitive movement of washing dishes or the symbolic act of cleansing, but it works.

Modern man is starved of mechanical work, physical work. And our soul is suffering for it. Our head is king, and our heart and bodies its serfs.

I gotta start taking dance.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


I feel it falling,
my favorite season. With
it I go inward.

How many?

Substitute a craft you like for the word "poem", that craft's consuming verb for "read", and that craft's creating verb for "write".

How many poems must I read before I can recognize a good one?
How many must I write and read before I can write a good one?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The North Woods

A walk an hour before dusk in the North Woods refuels my soul for two months of city living.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Journal Entry: February 8, 2008

The following is a character for character copy of a journal entry I wrote last winter.

Saw a pic of me on Leslie's phone and thought I looked handsome, though slightly overweight. I weigh, at least, 185; Hemingway talked about being a big man of 192 in Islands in the Stream. It's relative.

Just left the apt, walked to the subway in the mild Feb weather. Heading to the Village for Jacqui's party at Kettle of Fish. Currently sitting on the C train passing 86th street. Got a flask of Svedka in Les's purse and am looking forward to the decadence, though low on money and Presidents' Day is the week after next -- cutting into funds. Some guy with plaid scarf, black shoes, jeans and red shirt is trying to look cool -- who's he entertaining? Maybe I'm cynical.

Just got off and walked to 1 platform where some Indian music is playing across the track. A man in red head-to-toe dress is standing staring. Hear a guitar now -- no, it's the clatter of ladders carried by a hard-hat construction worker.

Leslie's cute in curls, scarf, lipstick and women's peacoat. I'm huddled up to subway pillar. Girls fucking talking in valley accent -- though dressed to the NY nines....

Took a swig outta the flask after blocking view for Les to take swig. Now on the 1, she asks if she looks cute. I tell her she's adorable. She is.

Drunk women are giggling and acting like they're not conscious of their cleavage. Car crowds. Young French couple in own world, laughing at how train makes them fall on each other. Man of iron jaw, cigarette face, and 19th century plastered mane is popping mints in mouth and watching young girls exit at 34th street. Guy, balding, glasses, lame goatee, frumpy belly, Yew Yauk accent, work boots, jeans, leather coat, complains to thinner look-alike friend. Guy next to me puts straw in Pepsi bottle, opens sketchbook and begins drawing Iron Jaw across from us. Black guy, black shoes, black jeans, black coat, all casual.

At 18th, going, doors open, doors close, drunk girls laugh -- they're still on. Working boots' buddy sits. The girls are speaking Spanish. I hear "barracho". No, they're practicing Spanish.

Out of the ground at Christopher and 7th Ave. Some guy with practice high-hat drum with rubber top talks with girl who just finished performing mime. He acts like a mime for her and she gives a fake laugh. I'm "the enemy" takin' notes w/my eyes. We're in Kettle O' Fish and Jacqui's roomate Jenna is pretty, thin, 23, long hair and insecure -- wanting to get attention, but too many dive bar knuckle heads ignoring her. Alexa, another roomate, is less secure and gabbing to Les about ... nothing... "Alabama... I have to do this/that... he's a lawyer... It was like 5 years... he's so smart." The tender is making good drinks. Jenna took a joke. Jacqui's roller-derby-jeer-leader diva friend looks like a washed up wanna-be-beauty at 40, though she's in her 50's. Jenna's back with a cute gay guy. Nobody's happy but me, Les, and the Bday girl.

The party disintegrates as the night goes on. People give each other less attention.

The black gay guy rubs my beard and tells me I'm cute. Tells my wife she's a liar when she says we have gay friends in Oklahoma. Bday girl comes up to us and confesses her drunken love of man who met her intellectual fantasies after she had just moved to the city.

So Les and I hop on the A. Wrong way. Are forced to buy a ticket and get back on the A -- tipsy and tired -- and take long track back home, among boombox guy, middle-aged couples, hipster girl with white coat, black skirt, black tights. Off the A, into the night, on the sidewalk, back home. Breathing heavily on our futon pillows -- capecod dreams.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Brother or Mrs. Holland

I can't remember who said it first, my brother or Mrs. Holland, but I know that I heard it from each in the same year.

"Follow a thought to it's end."

For years, I've battled between trying to do this and trying to avoid doing this. It's not an easy thing to do. And once you begin down that path, my friend, you may soon find yourself sitting smack dab in the middle of madness -- what once was a scenic dirt road lined with daffodils and marigolds becomes a cave filled with a murder of crows.

The Zen Koans tell us to be aware of the universe as we take a bite of morning cereal. I'd like to do this. But I have to distract myself with reading material while on the toilet or nothing happens.

What's the secret? Where do the roads, distraction and focus, meet? Do they?

I think they do. Where? I don't know.

But here is another thing: I have a close friend whose former therapist told her that "all we have to do is diagnose our problem; awareness is healing." I'm misquoting, but the point is to be aware.

I think this, too, can backfire. Too much navel contemplation puts you back in the cave with the crows or in Nietzsche's abyss.

Can you see that I'm attempting to follow a thought to its end but keep getting caught on the detours? Or am I gaining ground?

This is what I think: I think it's all true. I think you have to observe the navel and you have to escape into movies. You have to hold doggedly to that damn idea till your brain explodes and you figure it out; and you have to, consciously or unconsciously, change channels on the radio till your wife punches you in the face.

I haven't figured out how to do both at once, yet. But I will. For now I'm still working on the sound of one hand clapping.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


If the last leaf falls
at dusk when I die, it all
goes down together.

What's Going On?

My blog has an identity crisis.

For my merciful friends and family who've continued to read this throughout it's infrequent posting, it may have a definite identity. That being: Okie's thoughts.

I still don't know what to make of it. And over the past couple months I've only written when I felt like it or when my schedule permitted, though I was keeping a steady posting regimen in the beginning. Now, over the last couple weeks, I've delayed posting because I don't know how to write on here. I don't know my blogging identity. I've given anecdotes, memories from the past, poems, current events, observations....

Maybe I should just write whatever the hell comes to mind? That's what I'm doing now for lack of a better alternative. But I want to be professional and place quality work on this blog in order to be respectful and grateful for those who take the time to read it.

So I'm asking you: Does my blog have an identity? What do you like/dislike? Should I keep doing whatever the hell I've been doing -- I'm not sure what that is but I'll try to figure it out? What do you think?

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bela Fleck and The Sparrow Quartet at Castle Clinton

As the sun sizzles into the Atlantic
my innards are stretched taut to the stars
tuned to the tone of OM
and clawed by angels and demons as

the cello's hum shivers the spine
the banjo bobbles the head and
Abigail's voice rises as
petals on the wind, exorcising my soul out
and into the western hues in flux

The billion eyes of New York
ignite the towers of night!

"I gotta prayin' Momma"
She reels
Yes, her hair is aflame!
"And if my soul is lost"
She coos
wooing the wind in time
"It's all my own fault"

The violin shrieks and shakes
the player senseless
The violin coughs
clouds across the crowd, sending
shoulders bouncing, hands flapping, heads wagging
An old man plays the air as spoons on his thigh

Bela's face tick tocks, jigs with his fingers
eyebrows waving
mouth corners shaking till...
Boom! A cello hurrah
yanks howls out our chests

And I am left suspended between
here and heaven

infinite tension

till she tames the sky
and sighs the night into this
spiraling off a cello string

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Patter of wet feet
Over the bathroom tile. Smile.
Thinking of you nude.


Leaning over Lorca
my beard fills with song

Lilting vines
wind through my eyes
and burst into an elegy
of flowering tears

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Monologue of an Ignorant Observation

I'm not going to go into the political and sociological evolution of America because I don't feel like writing that much, but lately I feel we resemble the height of society that has been seen in other cultures. More specifically, the beginning of the downward turn after the height. I've seen this primarily in our communal ideals and approach to work.

But before I jump on those ideals, I wanted to draw a quick parallel to the golden age of the country that "discovered" America. The age began in 1492. This date is notable in Spanish history, not for the discovery of America but for the conquering of the Moors at Granada. Spain had finally set in motion the end of its Jewish and Muslim population, but by doing so, had rid itself of it's merchants and craftsmen. As Spain pushed all the craftsmen and merchants out of the country, it built up its military and cultivated its greatest art. While Velazquez was painting "Las Meninas" and Cervantes was writing Don Quixote, Charles V brought together the worlds greatest empire since Rome.

Though Spain was very wealthy, it spent all it's money on the military. Though Spain was an agrarian state, it had pushed out all those who worked in the fields or made the tools necessary to do so. It had no producing economy and no one to do the work even if it wanted to produce something. Everyone sought the idealism of the Renaissance and didn't have time to get their hands dirty.

Very needless to say: Spain lost it's power, money, health and autonomy.

What made me think of all of this? It wasn't that America is known around the world for it's military, culture, and "consuming" economy; instead it was something my wife said. She said, "I work in a video store and we have to watch VHS tapes because the DVD player is broken; and we have to watch them on the small screen because the large screen isn't working either. I work in a video store and no one can fix the player or the TV."

Without thinking, I said, "Of course not, they're all college students."

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Herald of Spring

Out of the subway
walking home

The night sky waves,
flames through a smoke scarred furnace door,
thick and heavy and
muffling the triple gong of a distant church bell

Pathway lamps cut the trees
and pulse the fog
that bleeds the park

Only my foot falls sound the sidewalk

Now, a cold siren in Harlem

Through the haze
a mammoth stone rises
speared with the bones of trees --

and a golden presence hovers in their midst --

A small tree,
a yellow-petaled halo,
crowns the stone
among the ruins of winter

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Feeling

My head presses through a vice

Something about being born
no cocoons
and nothing about merely surviving

My lungs burn
breathing air like swallowing ice

Nothing about death
being an ending before a beginning

Light impales my eyes

Is birth pain and confusion?

I'm heavy but will
disappear if I stop screaming

Monday, February 11, 2008


I've learned that life is sorrow. Also that it is joy. And both can hit you broadsided.

In 2005 I attended three funerals. Two were of my grandfather and my best friend who took pieces of me with them. My great grandmother was the third, and I regret not knowing her well. In spite of their ages I was ready for none of them. Sometimes we wade through so much sorrow that we feel we'll soon, happily, sink into its quicksand--the warmth and darkness a comfort--and disappear.

I have a childhood friend, Grace, who I literally was in the crib with. She's four days older than me. My mom has a picture of both of us together--before we were even old enough to walk--in a crib in our backyard. We are in our diapers and bare chested in the Oklahoma sun. We've laughed at how much chubbier she was than me.

Grace lost her five year-old daughter to an aneurysm in December. As much as I held my best friend and grandfather dear, I can't imagine her grief. I received a picture of Grace, her husband, son, and late daughter in the mail shortly after the death. It was a holiday picture. Everyone was smiling--a young family heading into a new year. The new year arrived but the daughter, Charity, didn't see it.

It has been unseasonably warm the past couple months. Then last night as I was smoking on my fire escape, shivering in the sudden cold, I prayed for a good snow. I have been awaiting the Northeastern winter since I moved to New York. I love the cold. And then it came. At first I thought it was just the wind blowing flurries off the roof tops that had fallen earlier that day; but they began to multiply and cover my coat and gloves. I said, "huh."

I often dwell in harsh memories. They're easier to remember. And often forget the pleasant ones. But when the snow began to fall, and forgive my sentimentality, I cried.

In a poem called "Wife," Hayden Carruth writes of an old man's insomnia, of his drinking and smoking through the night while his wife sleeps in "her half (two-thirds really) of their bed." He closes the poem with these lines:

"His last cigarette, his final gulp of chardonnay,
and he presses against her warm glow,
thinking of how he swam as a boy
of twelve in the warm pond beyond
the elms and hickories at the meadow's
edge. He turned like a sleepy carp among
the water lilies, under the dragonflies
and hot clouds of the old days of summer."

Even in the midst of sorrow, there is joy. There is joy in, as they say, the small things. Settling into bed with your wife. A coffee with a friend. A good book. A laugh.

Or a prayer answered with snow.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Music and Memory

I find that music, like the sense of smell, is closely tied to nostalgia. One may smell fresh cut grass and think of peewee football, his first home, or a college campus. One may also listen to The Clash and think of high school, the history channel, or a bad date at a dive bar.

Music often transports me when I least expect it.

Upon hearing Dancing Nancies by Dave Matthews band, I think of a campfire with friends and guitars; a midnight drive in high school when I jumped out of the car at a stop sign and began to dance in the headlights as my friend rolled down the windows, turned up the volume and laughed; an intimate night with a girlfriend.

Upon hearing Alison Krauss singing Slumber My Darling, I think of a time when my brother was in devastating circumstances, sunken on my thrift store chair, and healed through tears while listening to her voice.

Upon hearing Dollars and Cents by Radiohead, I'm transported to a midnight session of text books, coffee, computer and frustration of marathon studying for college finals.

Upon hearing the Hairspray soundtrack, I'm on the back of the stage of the Neil Simon theater, hearing my wife's foot steps pounding out the dance number of You Can't Stop the Beat as her silhoeutte sways over an empty stage.

And upon hearing Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, I'm in multiple places simultaneously: on the couch with my brother in a rented house and reverie, in a shuttle bus at the airport with my head in the stratosphere, with a good book and good coffee.

I find that music is a constantly cascading photo album that turns to an obscure page when I least expect it and sucks me into a memory all but forgotten.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

C Train from Chelsea to Harlem

I'm sitting next to my wife with
her bright colored glove on my thigh
and watching

A man in a tailored overcoat,
platinum ring on his hand,
smooth leather briefcase between his legs

A lady sitting
with red, dyed, thin hair and a heavily wrinkled face looking under
her brow and over her thick glasses,
eyes darting back and forth

A pear shaped girl with dark skin huddling behind the collar of her coat,
the hem rises over her hips and she pulls it down,
again and again

A couple snuggling, kissing, giggling --
she has dark long hair and legs and freckles,
he has eyes and hands full of her

A man with chapped, cracked hands holding a trash cart
that's rolling, spilling stench --
he has grey in his beard,
gunk in his hair,
no earphones,
and rhythm in his feet as he cripwalks to no

music but the squeal of the brakes,
hush of the doors,
sway of the car

Sunday, January 13, 2008


"I scared the fly! Scared the fly!" The little girl screams in the booth next to us.

"You're scared of the fly, honey?" the mom says.



"They suck blood."

It was going well when we first entered, Mrs. Okie and I saw a booth available in our favorite section of our favorite diner where we eat the same thing every Sunday, served by the the same waitress who places our order in the kitchen when she sees us at the door and asks me the same question while pouring our coffee.

"With grits or no today, my friend."

"Yes, please."

"Okay, darlings, everything good?"

"Yeah, we're great," Mrs. Okie says.

"Good. And everything else?"

"Yes, thank you," I say.

"Great, good, nice to have good life." She said as she turned away and pulled her black vest down a little over her round backside.

"Jesse called when I was at work last night, he was . . ."

The girl screams about the blood sucker. She's all of three years old. And her mother tries to tell her that "no, those are mosquitoes that suck blood." And the three year-old's big sister, who must be around five, agrees with her sister that flies do suck blood; and the three year-old wails. "Sophie, why did you say that? You're just egging her on," then she rapid-fire pleads, "Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, flies don't suck blood." At first, I think she's going to swear, saying "holy, holy, holy." We're in the back of a narrow isle of parallel booths that ends at a wall with a large mirror. I'm across the isle and watching Ollie's reflection watch herself; she's enthralled and seems to be orchestrating her performance -- when her face cools she increases volume till she's back to beet red. She'd be a beautiful little girl if she'd stop screaming. Her sister is cute too, both are brunette with cherub faces and huge eyes. The mother's at an end, and after getting stares from an elderly couple sitting behind Ollie, she says, "I'm sure . . . you've had kids . . . and they were little, once . . . ." Sophie says mom, mom, mom and wants a trip to some store -- mom doesn't think that's a good idea because she's been misbehaving -- I'll be good tomorrow -- Tomorrow? What about the rest of today? -- Sophie thinks about that -- Ollie screams about the fly -- Sophie starts to stare at the old couple -- That's not polite, Sophie. Look away. Look at the mirror -- and Sophie looks at me looking at Ollie looking at herself -- I smile at Sophie -- she looks at Ollie and back at me and shrugs her shoulders, turns to her mother -- mom, mom, mom, mom -- You think about it, Sophie, I've told you about rewarding bad behavior . . .

Then I'm alone with my wife and breakfast and our waitress comes back.

"You okay? More coffee?"


"You need anything else?"

"No we're great, thanks."

"Good, my friend."

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Slow Walkers

I told my wife: "It's frustrating to walk behind slow walkers. There are only three types of people who walk slowly in New York: children, the mentally ill, and tourists."

Even the old and fat walk fast in New York. And the children don't technically walk slow, they just get distracted and stop and zig zag and detour.

With so little sidewalk space and so many people, New Yorkers just want efficient travel. It's a simple courtesy to pick up the pace.

My wife said: "I know, and what I hate most is walking behind mentally ill, child tourists."