April 2006


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From Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road,” here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Well, that all seemed like a great idea when I was twenty. Now I question the wisdom, even if I still feel the same way. I’m on the Father/farther side of things now. Someone finally made clear to me the definition of the words ‘co-dependent’ and ‘enabler.’ Enabler is a role I don’t want.

I sure do love the work of Mary Karr. She’s best known for her memoir, ‘The Liar’s Club.” Her new book of poetry is called, “Sinners Welcome.” Why am I so attracted to her work. Because I grew up in the working stiff , mill town world that fostered, drinking, desperation, and all that comes with it. Me and my contemporaries, with all our misbegotten ambitions, lack of ambition, fantasies, self destructiveness, etc. Like Mary, I somehow discovered reading, which led me into worlds I couldn’t have imagined otherwise. Have I escaped? Not sure. Still working on it. Here are 3 new poems from Mary Karr:

PATHETIC FALLACY
by Mary Karr

When it became impossible to speak to you
due to your having died and been incinerated,
I sometimes held the uncradled phone

with its neat digits and arcane symbols (crosshatch,
black star) as if embedded in it
were some code I could punch in

to reach you. You bequeathed me
this morbid bent, Mother.
Who gives her sixth-grade daughter

Sartre’s Nausea to read? All my life,
I watched you face the void,
leaning into it as a child with a black balloon

will bury her countenance
either to hide from
or to merge with that darkness.

Small wonder that still
in the invisible scrim of air
that delineates our separate worlds,

your features sometimes press toward me
all silvery from the afterlife, woven in wind,
to whisper a caution. Or your hand on my back

shoves me into my life.

DELINQUENT MISSIVE
by Mary Karr

Before David Ricardo stabbed his daddy
           sixteen times with a fork — Once
for every year of my fuckwad life — he’d long
           showed signs of being bent.
In school, he got no valentine nor birthday
           cake embellished with his name.
On Halloween, a towel tied around his neck
           was all he had to be a hero with.
He spat in the punchbowl and smelled like a foot.
           His forehead was a ledge
he leered beneath. When I was sent to tutor him
           in geometry, so he might leave
(at last) ninth grade, he sat running pencil lead
           beneath his nails.
If radiance shone from those mudhole eyes,
           I missed it. Thanks, David
for your fine slang. You called my postulates
            post holes ; your mom endured
ferocious of the liver . Plus you ignored —
           when I saw you wave at lunch —
my flinch. Maybe by now you’re ectoplasm,
           or the zillionth winner of the Texas
death penalty sweepstakes. Or you occupy
           a locked room with a small
round window held fast by rivets, through which
           you are watched. But I hope
some organism drew your care — orchid
           or cockroach even, some inmate
in a wheelchair whose steak you had to cut
           since he lacked hands.
In this way, the unbudgeable stone
           that plugged the tomb hole
in your chest could roll back, and in your sad
           slit eyes could blaze
that star adored by its maker.

WHO THE MEEK ARE NOT
by Mary Karr

           Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
           in the rice paddy muck,
nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
           make the wheat fall in waves
they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
           nun says we misread
that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
           To understand the meek
(she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
           in a meadow, who —
at his master’s voice — seizes up to a stunned
           but instant halt.
So with the strain of holding that great power
           in check, the muscles
along the arched neck keep eddying,
           and only the velvet ears
prick forward, awaiting the next order.

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Had a dream the other night where I’d come across a car accident. It was a cold, wet, winter night and someone’s car was sinking into the water alongside the highway, like the bayou alongside I-10 in Louisiana, only it was a cold weather climate. I pulled over to help, and realized that the accident had just happened. Someone was under the water and I knew that I’d have to go in to pull them out. Well, that’s enough to get your heart pounding and wake you out of a dream. As I came half awake I thought about my son behind the wheel, 8 or 9 years from now. Based on the some of the stupid behavior behind the wheel, of me and my teenage pals, I assume I have plenty to worry about. I suppose I should worry about that when the time comes, but that’s the way fear can snake itself through the mind, deep in the night. Saw this poem today and it continued along with that dark thread.

THAT LIGHT ONE FINDS IN BABY PICTURES

1.
Being born is a shame-

But it’s not so bad as journeys go. It’s not the worst one
We will ever have to make. It’s almost noon

And the light now clouded in the courtyard is
Like that one finds in baby pictures: old

And pale and hurt-

2.
When all roads are low and lead to the same
Place, we call it ‘fate’ and tell ourselves how

We were born to make the journey. Who’s
To say we weren’t?

3.
The clouded light has changed to rain.
The picture- no, ‘the baby’s’ blurry.

4.
That’s me, the child playing in the sand with a pail
And shovel; in the background, my mother’s shadow

Is crawling across a soot-blackened collapse of brick
And timber, what might have been a bathhouse once.

The tide is coming in. Someone has written “HELL”
On it’s last standing wall.

by Jay Hopler

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Picked up the New York Times the other morning to discover that Don Alias died. It brought to mind a line from an old Aretha song, ‘Sister From Texas’, where she sings, “Here for the moment, gone forever…” That’s the feeling I get, recalling the brief intimacies of recording with/performing with all the different musicians I’ve crossed paths with.

Flash back to 1997. I produced one song in one day for a Laura Nyro tribute album. My friend Peter Gallway was the executive producer and since I was playing 2nd guitar in Leni Stern’s band, he asked me to oversee her contribution to the project. This was low budget time, a one day session: cut the track, mix and deliver it at the end of the night. The song was an instrumental that we had already played live, so certainly one day would be sufficient.

Of course, recording never goes the way you plan on it going, it goes where it wants to go. We went in to Sony Studios up on 52nd(?) Street in New York on the far West Side. Right off the bat we couldn’t get the board to function. Digital technology, what a pain in the ass. With tape, you’d press record, and whether or not the machines were aligned, you had something. Now, not a session goes by without something crashing or some software belligerently refusing to cooperate. Meanwhile we had a full band of well paid musicians sitting and waiting. One hour, then another, then six hours later, “Is anybody hungry?” Finally later in the evening we were able to get started. Needless to say, it takes a bit of the freshness out of the moment to sit and wait for hour after hour, but we got a vibe going eventually.

The percussionist was Don Alias. I didn’t know anything about him, but he was a beautiful soul of dignity and experience. I had no idea until reading his obituary how deep his story ran. He was born in New York to Caribbean parents and picked up percussion from the streets, from the Cuban and Puerto Rican hand drummers. Later he switched to playing the full kit and became Nina Simone’s musical director. Now there are a couple of fiery personalities well suited for each other. He went on to play with Miles Davis, which is possibly how Leni knew him, as Leni’s husband Mike toured with Miles for a while. That adds a few more colorful personalites to the mix. This is not the ‘peaceful easy feeling’ club. This is the ‘let’s push it as far as we can push it, and see who comes out alive’ club.

Ah, my brother, God bless you for living life to the fullest. I’ve posted the track we cut that day, ‘Upstairs By a Chinese Lamp’, in the discography section of my site. It’s one of my favorite records that I’ve participated in. I remember looking out from Leni’s office/rehearsal space, maybe 10 stories up, with sweeping views of the bridge and the East Village, knowing that my time in New York was about to be up. Take a good long look, and kiss it goodbye.

A CONFESSION

My Lord, I loved strawberry jam
And the dark sweetness of a woman’s body.
Also well-chilled vodka, herring in olive oil,
Scents, of cinnamon, of cloves.
So what kind of prophet am I? Why should
the spirit
Have visited such a man? Many others
Were justly called, and trustworthy.
Who would have trusted me? For they saw
How I empty glasses, throw myself on food,
And glance greedily at the waitress’s neck.
Flawed and aware of it. Desiring greatness,
Able to recognize greatness wherever it is,
And yet not quite, only in part, clairvoyant,
I knew what was left for smaller men like me:
A feast of brief hopes, a rally of the proud,
A tournament of hunchbacks, literature.

Czeslaw Milosz
translated by Czeslaw Milosz & Robert Hass