Saturday, September 3, 2011

Word Flight

A half-baked poem is okay as long as it's in the oven.
 ~Author Unknown

The Chinese matron wedged into the middle seat uses most of the arm rest. Our forearm hairs co-mingle in tenuous Détente. She gawks at the poem I write. Our aircraft nudges forward awaiting the nod from the tower.

From the window seat her husband redirects her attention from my poem, but she is determined. I write smaller and smaller. Take-off turbulence makes my shrinking chicken scratch resemble Chinese. Even I can't understand it.

Might it have been Confucius who said
A bamboo brush is mightier than a poke in the eye with a pencil. 
From my carry-on bag I brandish my bamboo and horsehair brush with its accompanying archival inkwell. I set them on the tray table in front of me.

Deft strokes of my brush render symbols I imagine might counsel her against rudeness, but she nods and smiles, so I put away the calligraphy to resume my poem.

When we level at our cruising altitude, she locks eyes on the wavy wool of her husband's mid-section. He is already snoring like a shrimp trawler. His barn door frames a bovine bulge teetering on its threshold. She leans over to close it but thinks better of it. She imagines the zipper closing ranks on his tip skin. It's the prospect of his a capella cross-check and all-call blowing the doors off the aft cabin that dissuades her.

Somewhere over Council Bluffs she uses the margins of the in-flight magazine to crib my poem. I pause for her to catch up, then punctuate the closing line zinger. She punctuates the closing line zinger of her poem. I nod and smile.

We savor the in-flight beverages. I slip her a business card I had printed under a pseudonym with the optimistic title Self-Publisher.

I point out the web address of a poetry journal I have written for her on the back of the card -- the same journal that has rejected hundreds of my poems as "not suitable as this time".

She accepts my professional courtesy with a smile. I wish her godspeed submitting her work. We begin our descent into the Twin Cities metro area. We agree in measured English to have my people get in touch with her people. Or, vice-verse.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Recollections as Edible Gingerbread

Appraised with clinical detachment, my most vivid recollections comprise a gingerbread house. Like other houses on the historic register, my memories have distinctive adornments like semi-hardened coral-red frosting.

Fitting to a house constructed from all-spice cookie slabs and semi-hardened frosting, my recollections reside on a corner lot with no particular orientation to the rising or setting suns signified by butterscotch.

This particular gingerbread house first panned its way into my view as the kind of special effect that calls to mind viewing the world through the semi-transparent lenses on the wrong end of candy binoculars. But these are the ocular peepholes that constitute my understanding of the fantasy that passes for reality and vice versa.

If I were to click a photograph of the coral-red gingerbread house in the ideal light, it would appear ordinary to you and disappointing to me. If this photograph was all we had to judge my recollections, we would proclaim the historical register designation real-estate fraud and culinary malpractice.

Furthermore if I were to sit in a gingerbread Adirondack chair with my back to the front of the gingerbread house holding a rock candy mirror in my left hand and painting what I saw in the mirror with my right, you would be disappointed with the veracity of every forsaken gob of frosting I committed to the ginger snap canvas.

I drift toward Main Street like a game board token when I arrive in familiar and unfamiliar towns. My gingerbread house sits a few blocks off Main Street. I suppose this is a kind of equivalence fallacy never to be reconciled. Since I am explaining the details of an edible dwelling, I don't want to ruin any sensory pleasure you might figuratively derive from dunking my chocolate-dipped chimney into cold milk, gumming my recollections, then swallowing. Suffice to say my recollections will never reside in the prominent storefronts of Main Street, rather they will be mixed, baked, built, eaten and re-mixed a few blocks off Main.

Oh sure, my gingerbread house has obligatory gum drops. Gum drops that were plopped on the roof after wondering “Shouldn't a gingerbread house have gum drops?” The gingerbread people who inhabit the house are foot soldiers in the dark armies of my sundry alter egos. Maybe they are just cookies, but the little bastards ignore me. They appear happy enough albeit with delicately applied smiles and bulging candy pearl eyes. It's no wonder children routinely behead them with as much malice and forethought as an appetite for sugar.

The neighborhood streets have storybook names like Story Street. The story of simple recollections began as a poem. The poem was adorned with a title that implied geographic location because that is what poets do regardless of whether geography is germane. In this instance the location had everything and nothing to do with the poem like those candy beads that pass for jewelry.

But you would have finished reading the poem by now. The poem surely would have come up short. Perhaps missing baking soda. Perhaps too much was left to the imagination. Perhaps the poem was over-baked. It's near impossible to enumerate the ways in which the poem would have failed. That's precisely why I am going to spell it out in architectonic block letters like the ones gingerbread architects use to win over wary clients.

My preference in explaining the elusiveness of memories requires more than an all-spice house tricked out in gum drops. I suppose I would write the narrative in block letters with chubby street chalk. I would start on the western end of Story Street, then block letter my merry way eastward to the Candy Land board located somewhere below the Story Hills. By the same token street art is under-appreciated, particularly in short story form. And as a practical matter, it rains here from time to time -- even in my recollections.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nirvana Knows No Empty Stomach

My Pa is a little like Jed Clampett. You know the Clampetts from re-runs of The Beverly Hillbillies. Like old Jed, Pa's got what we call in our parts a perfect peace.

Never mind Pa ain't got no school smarts, his mind is free from craving, free from anger, and free from the other petty unpleasantries characteristic of city folk.

In what has to be the world's most fortunate hunting accident, Jed Clampett shoots at a squirrel, then lo and behold, hits black gold.

Pa on the other hand, shoots to unleash an oil geyser, misses, but hits a squirrel dead between its sniffer holes. The same squirrel Momma skins, dices, and stuffs in her calzones. The rest is family lore.

Money don't change Pa one bit, but affords him time to cogitate. The secrets of Clem's Microwavable Squirrel Calzones were purchased by a posse of over-dressed but congenial lawyers to the tune of $782 million.

Pa built us a place not too far from kin in Butcher Holler. Momma filled the new place with bronze Buddha figures of all sizes. She and Pa have lots of time on their hands now to burn incense and the like.

The two talk of Nirvana. From what I gather, it involves stages on some grand path. Between you and me, it reeks of common sense -- stuff like refrain from evil, do what's good, and clear your head.

All those clashes of social class that made The Beverly Hillbillies such a golldarn knee-slapper now invade our lives like a disagreeable house guest. Lifelong have-nots, we hardly know how to behave amongst the haves. But if I learned anything from this moonshine ride we call life, it's this:
Don't underestimate what folks will eat if its stuffed in a calzone.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Land of the Cherry People

I want to do with you what spring does with cherry trees
~ Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair

I pilot the cherry red bus up East Shore Road out of Polson. She hands me the rubber hose from the water pipe my agronomist room mate crafted from a half carafe and chemistry lab supplies.

Her sun-ripened skin does not belie her anticipation. The biological card shuffler, heretofore known as the pas de deux of anticipation, lights me up like the tiny but relentless flames that keep a camp fire chugging long into dawn so the camp cook can prepare breakfast sausages 8-inches above the embers.

I'm relaxed, but cocked. It's either the Kalispell ditch weed taking hold, or that she simply plans me no bodily harm, like lopping off an unneeded appendage or two. Her smile is more alluring than the grin of any paranoia-inducing Cheshire cat my left brain might conjure up.

"We're entering the Land of the Cherry People", she whispers.

Our wheels roll past thresholds of unspoken reverence.

Into a tunnel of blossom-puckered cherry trees we go. These are not standard-issue cherry trees. They decorate the eastern shore like a wreath of ever-bearing biological spasms reminding us spring isn't meant for naps.

When we exit the Land of the Cherry People at Big Fork, I feel like time was pulled over for speeding.

I also notice I have grown a third leg that's pushing up against the steering wheel like a calf coated in afterbirth. Convinced this bewitching cherry of a companion traveling next to me might stick around long enough to some day trim the fibrous coppice from my ears in a nursing home, I fumble for diversion.

"Will you dig up the Frampton Comes Alive tape?"

"The one with the live version of Do You Feel Like I Do?", she asks.

Ever Patrician and exceedingly polite, my third leg is too pitiful for her to ignore.

"Maybe we should do something about Peter Frampton first", she intimates.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Mating Imperative

Some time back in high school biology, I was captivated by the mating of fruit flies. The deterministic control of the experiment gave me a heady sense of the order of the universe. Such an orderly taxonomy of all of god's critters was antidote to the uncertainty of another outbreak of acne.

I suppose those little creatures, pinned and poked, were my creepy-crawly concubines. They gave my life purpose, beyond indiscriminate masturbation.

But after many formative years jumping through one academic hoop after another, the last twenty years as Professor of Entomology has me pining for the driven sense of purpose I felt when I would impale a frog's tiny hand with a straight pin.

For many years I was clinically detached delivering my bug lectures like an automaton in LL Bean khakis. Now I grow all teary-eyed and mushy when I explain to freshman
Males serenade females with close-range wing vibrations. Females feel the wispy air currents with their finely-tuned antennae.
The wiser I get, the harder it is to be non-didactic with my students. After all, procreation is our one encoded imperative. And two winks after a couple of hucklebucks in the hay, my biological progeny are already finding the rungs of academia to be hastily attached to the rails.

It's only when students visit during office hours that I can be candid about how I feel about those kill-joy existential questions. Mating rituals of insects merely provide the context.

If procreation wasn't our encoded imperative, the antennal ears of female tephritidae wouldn't be exquisitely dialed into the vibratory gusts emanating from their mates. They'd be ignoring this biological imperative as if they'd better things to do.

The female antennae would be tuned to something else - like vintage Chubby Checker. Their tiny gyrating thoraxes would be doing The Twist.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

True Objective & Hitting Switches

In life happiness is a false objective. The most important ingredient of life is desire which is not an objective.
~ Ergun Çoruh (a.k.a., @ProudElephant)
I won't labor you with the time-space wormhole minutiae that enabled me to drive my hybrid-powered automobile accompanied by Madame Curie (1867–1934) riding shotgun at the butt-end of a 21st century winter.

Rolling downhill in Eco-Mode, I explained to Madame Marie that some automobiles are fitted with hydraulic modifications so they can be made to bounce, on demand, several feet off the pavement by toggling a switch -- much like a jolt of applied voltage might inspire a bucking mule. I told her that this pastime is colloquially known as "hittin' switches".

Marie was amused by the absurd theater of bouncing automobiles wondering, tongue-in-cheek, if perhaps there was an underlying practical basis, like using the bouncing automobile as a weapon to catch prey, or to fend off an enemy.

Descending from the clouds towards Lucky's 13 Pub, she also questioned the utility of the EV switch in my hybrid automobile when I gleefully switched to electric propulsion once the speed limit dropped to 25 mph on the memorial artery of historic Mendota.

Her arm in my elbow, we crossed the threshold into Lucky's 13. She smiled wistfully when she asked,
"What element would you be be on the periodic table?"
I thought of the transition metals, then blurted mercury. She knowingly acknowledged my choice as if she had anticipated it, but I thought I detected a wisp of sadness in her acknowledgement.

I had been feeling mercurial - somewhat flighty and erratic having discovered the subtleties of ferreting time-space wormholes. I have had brief periods of melancholy centered about the passage of time - time that extended beyond many lifetimes.

I was sure she would say she was uranium, but I regret not asking her. She might have felt more akin to inert gases, despite the celebrity status two uranium minerals, pitchblende and torbernite, had brought into her life.

There are infinite time-space wormholes, so I doubt I'll have the pleasure of Madame Marie's company again.

Much as I try, it's nigh impossible to melt and mold a nugget that embodies my philosophy.

Yet I am as sure as a relativist can be that existential concerns are the singular thread worth traveling. Other concerns seem like hitting switches - creating a sort of mental turbulence that make you bounce up and down.

Suffice it to say, time does extend beyond many lifetimes. There's nothing we can do about being finite. About the best we can hope for is to carry the torch of humanity a few clicks before an eternal dirt nap. And now that I know inquisitive humans can tap into wormholes, there is a pinhole of light in the finality of death.

One can take infinitesimally small comfort in the prospect of a visit from the future. A visit from someone curious enough about our hopes and aspirations; someone willing to take the time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Time Travel Wednesday, 6-Toed Tomcats

My hybrid automobile gets miserly gas mileage in Eco-Mode, but Wormhole-Mode rips the ass out of my wallet.
The bottom line is that time travel is allowed by the laws of physics
~Brian Greene, Professor, Columbia University
Mariel Hemingway direct messaged me on Twitter. She read my time-travel blog post about my charming lunch with Colonel Josiah Snelling where I gained a prospective into 19th century westward expansion.

Mariel wondered if I could fire up my hybrid to drive her back to Papa Hemingway's Key West crib circa 1950 so that she might interact with the original 6-toed tomcat the sea captain purportedly gave to her grandfather. Turns out Mariel owns a descendant of the mutant polydactyl that lives with her in Malibu.

I had to put it to her delicately, in a series of 140 character Tweets, that there's no such thing as time travel. The salient Tweet was this --
Traversable wormholes can be reasoned theoretically, but are impractical to carry out.
No response from her yet.

Put another way, all this delusional time travel nonsense is predicated on my wife letting me drive the Delorean. The Prius will put us in the poor house if used for time travel.

Worried silly that I might have miffed the literary gods by misleading one of their lovely progeny with a fictional account of time travel, I sent Mariel a poem about Papa's Key West place called Six-Toed Tomcats, plus a recipe for the Hemingway Daiquiri - which she probably already has.

Six-Toed Tomcats

Every senile house frau and post-war
Pensioner from Piscataway to Yonkers
Retired here June of the same year
Seconds after every alligator swamp
Was back-filled with jetty dredge

Bootleg booze and sunset cruises
Smuggled from Cuba during prohibition
People in shorts dropped from the sky
Like Papa Hemingway's six-toed tomcat
Chucked in the pool from a motel balcony

Marine architects and salvage wreckers
Fishing trophy marlin and schools of skipjack
Fathoms from home-port lagoon cesspools
And predictable stops at Outback Steakhouse
Key West to munch on kookaburra wings

Hemingway Daiquiri
  1. Juice of an eighth of a grapefruit and a lime
  2. Add a dash of maraschino liqueur
  3. Drop in a shot and half of light rum
  4. Shake with ice and strain
  5. Serve straight up in a cocktail glass
  6. And remember, the Delorean has no cup holders!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Siphonaptera & the Sublimities of Mahler

I had spent a career warming increasingly less comfortable chairs in increasingly smaller spaces for decreasingly smaller increases in pay. It was finally my time to engage in something meaningful before my eternal dirt nap.
Spouse:Why don't you take a community ed class in oils or learn to fly fish?
Painting a vase of silk flowers or joining arthritic men jerking their rods by the Kinnickinnick River? I dunno, dear. 
I opted for a matchbox full of trained circus fleas. The quarter page ad in Bug Club Magazine claimed they were trained. That should have taught me not to believe the dumb shit I find in the children's magazine rack at Miserly Clips.

Turns out, not only were the fleas in no shape to attempt death-defying trapeze artistry, but half of them were banging 7-nano-gram rocks like they'd just triple-flipped off Charlie Sheen's shiatzu.

So I did the only thing I could do. I spent the next two semesters in a metalsmithing class so I could fashion a flea-sized-symphony's worth of brass horns. Next, I suppose I'll endeavor to fabricate the stringed instruments.

But I've got to work small. Microscope small. Japanese scientists could teach me a thing or two about single-polymer chains and atomic force microscopy seeing that they're reportedly able to reel in beefy rotifers on marginally convincing protozoan imitators. Do these nano-fishermen catch and release?
Those tiny brass horns are the flea's knees. But how are you gonna to teach those misfits the sublimities of Mahler?
Um, if the little critters finish up the substance abuse program at Hazelden come summer, I'll ship them off to Boston. Tanglewood has a music camp for gifted siphonaptera.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Time Travel Wednesday, CoJo

Yesterday was Time Travel Wednesday. I met Colonel Josiah Snelling (1782–1828) for lunch at Buon Giorno pasta bar. The Colonel enjoyed sausage & sun-dried tomatoes atop bow-tie pasta. CoJo intimated that the heavy limestone blocks used to fortify the frontier fort bearing his name, did little to belie America's intent on westward expansion.

We ate in the forgotten town of Mendota near the confluence of the Minnesota River and Mississippi River. Few autograph seekers recognized the crusty old Colonel, so we followed our pasta dishes with a desert of cream-stuffed cannolis.

Knowing CoJo lived in comfort inside the fort walls, I observed that my cannoli was roughly the dimensions of an enlisted man's bunk.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Ding Dong Magnum Opus

We had been hiking several clicks into the Bob Marshall Wilderness area. The trail was bereft of human artifacts like gum wrapper foil or the scent of Axe cologne. We rounded a sharp elbow then headed up a steep pitch.

I hokey-pokied over a pile of bear scat about the time I saw we were hiking by a patch of sun-warmed huckleberries. We reached a clearing then sat on a slab of granite to squirrel-munch on our processed provisions. Below us was a two-foot stack of deliberately placed rocks.

How do objects of such heft and irregularity defy gravity? Some sort of ethereal equilibrium that eludes clumsy, big-footed humans. The stacked rocks layered over the smell of oozing pine resin and billowing cottonwood gave me a sense of presence. I wondered about neurotransmitters like serotonin splaying out in my brain like buckshots of well-being. Then thought better of it.

I recalled the stunning color plates I had seen in one of Andrew Goldsworthy's coffee table books - the leaves, the mud, the pine cones and twigs exquisitely re-arranged by an ego-centric sculptor getting his conceptual art woodie.

So inspired, I jubilantly sacrificed my edible vittles to erect my magnum opus – a wilderness shrine of meticulously balanced Hostess Ding Dongs.

It was as if suddenly all the Little Debby Snacks in the universe didn’t exist.