Category Archives: Writing

The answer is, the question is

So when it all comes down,
what it all comes down to, what
the answer is, the question is
how I did, how did I
spend them,
those bits of time,
my moments, my allotment of them,
what did I do with them
where did I leave them
did I wring them dry
did I use them well
then clean and oil them,
put them away to use again–
impossible–not something
I would be likely to do
and not something
anyone can do with a moment

I gorged on some
and let the shiny wrappers pile right up
and this one–this one
I’m holding like an injured dove
but there are more, so many,
so many, they scuttled away
like roaches or I stomped them
like roaches
and anyway they’re gone

______

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I wrote this poem whilst on retreat at Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisco (a truly special place)

Purgatory, Kentucky (done?)

It got to where I couldn’t see a way
ahead except for dying. So I went.
Or, so I came. Just where, I couldn’t say.
It’s odd. Some kind of grass, or cane, all bent
this way and that, slick at the root,
and spiky sharp half the time, black as coal,
but soft enough to lie down in, some spots.
I’d have slept more, but my dreams are full
of nasty animals and dead presidents.
I got attacked by a whole fleet of armadillos
in a river. An armada. Is that what you call it?
Abraham Lincoln himself chopping wood. “Hello
Mr. Penny Man,” I said. He spoke not a word.
But this ain’t Hell. Of that I am assured.

This ain’t hell. Of that I am assured.
Would there be moderately cold beer or
would they let me keep my truck if torture
was on the agenda for now and ever after?
You might say yes, but I think not. No way.
I will admit that I have odd dreams.
But nothing scary, really. Nothing mean.
Just weird. Like a really long nap in the middle of the day.
There’s not much else to do. I could reflect
on all my trials and tribulations, the error
of my ways, but where would be the profit in that?
The wicked queen’s mistake was looking in the mirror.
She couldn’t rest in her own head and let
the young ones be the ones to stew and fret.

The young ones are the ones who stew and fret,
yes, even here they do. I tell them to relax,
but I do recall what it was like, to be fraught
with longing for a certain someone’s kiss,
the way a particular set of hard calluses
could raise a wave of shivers on my skin,
then one touch later heat me up fast,
so hot for more, I would do anything….
There is no profit in that kind of thought.
The man whose hands I speak of is not here.
I’ve grown restless all the sudden, not
full of life, I wouldn’t say, just bored.
Turns out I dislike it, this world without end.
The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.

The ferry’s here. I guess I’ll drive on in.
I tell you if I’d known I’d have my truck
on this side of, well, whatever side I’m on,
I’d have done myself in sooner. Just my luck
the ignition switch is still a fussy thing
which I guess means this isn’t heaven.
I never really minded when it wouldn’t start,
just took the time to admire my good old Ford,
Bought it new in ’72, Grabber Blue,
What was there me and my girl couldn’t do?
My favorite thing I ever hauled? An outhouse
that my Mama did NOT want me to take away.
“When your crazy cousin Vernon visits,
I like to have a quiet place to pray.”

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand everything I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

I got myself in gear and got in line
but wow, this line’s not moving. Not at all.
Then suddenly I’m hearing “Begin the Beguine”
a song I didn’t even know I knew. There’s a swell
of trumpets and what is that? An oboe? I don’t know.
And now a woman in a cape has stopped
by my truck. She’s a nun. So I guess it’s not a cape.
She says she’s a Beguine. Go with the flow
is what I’m thinking. There. We’re moving some.
The nun is in my truck. She sings along
to “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” I only hum.
I never could remember all the words to a song.
And now we’re going slow again, so slow
we might be backing up. I just don’t know.

We might be backing up. I just don’t know
if I’m alive or dead, asleep, awake–
but then, my whole life (a hundred years ago)
has been like that, blurry on the day-to-day
and sharp, in focus, only now and then.
Is that depression? Or is it being dumb
about what matters? I kind of drift along
a lot. My favorite thing was being at home,
just doing nothing, which is why my house is a mess.
Or was a mess. I’m sure it’s still a mess.
I’m the only one who ever cleaned.
But if I’m dead, what’s home? That’s what I mean.
There’s really nothing left to do but pray.
It’s gotten to where I cannot see the way.

_____

I began writing this crown of sonnets in April of 2013, as part of National Poetry Month, and NaPoWriMo.  I’m slow.  I would remember it every now and then and add a sonnet to it.

It’s a curious project–it began as a challenge sonnet when I was on my way to Manitowoc to do a reading.  I can’t remember all the parts of the challenge, though I think Abraham Lincoln was in it, and I definitely remember my friend Becky asking that I include Boyd Crowder’s hair.

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This is Walton Goggins, who played Boyd Crowder on Justified. On the show, I think Boyd used more hair product. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Because I loved Justified so much, putting Boyd in the poem opened all sorts of possibilities. I immediately heard the voice of Mags Bennett, played by the amazing Margo Martindale (one of the best villains with one of the best story arcs in all of tv land, ever). That’s why it was Purgatory, Kentucky.

But as I wrote it, I was less and less sure of Mags’ voice in the poem, or the need to have her narrate, so I’ve revised a lot of that out of it.

It doesn’t have much to do with Kentucky at this point, so I’ll probably change the title. It could be Purgatory, Illinois.  The outhouse portion happened in Southern Illinois, which is itself sort of a blurry place, not entirely southern, not entirely midwestern…  I actually like the sound of Purgatory, Illinois.

In any case, I believe the draft is done, and that means that I’ve now written four crowns–“Mothering God” was the first, and then “Each Other’s Anodyne,” and then “Mobius Strip of a Man,” and then this one.  I’m now working on a heroic crown of sonnets about my back surgery at the Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children (it’s not called that anymore).  I actually have this vague memory of writing another crown of sonnets, but surely I’d remember it clearly if I done it, right?

Some Recent Online Publications

Here are some winter publications I never quite got around to sharing much:

 

A story called “Down Off the Mountain” which appeared in Mulberry Fork Review, Issue 4, Volume 1. I’m on page 23.

A poem called “The Grievous Wrongheadedness of Comparing Grief” which appeared in The Quarterday Review, the February Imbolc issue.  I’m on page 45 there.

 

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Just taking care of some writing business on a Saturday.

 

 

Dear Jodie Foster: I got it (and it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t)

Update:  An article today  in The New York Times confirms–Jodie Foster’s REALLY FAMOUS 2013 Golden Globes speech was a scripted speech.  I was right that it felt intentionally structured.  I was right.  Did I mention I was right? Original post below:

_____

It’s been a long time since I watched an award show, but my husband was getting our son to bed last night, so I got to turn on the Golden Globes, which has long been my favorite awards show because it never seems to take itself too seriously, and just enough big stars always show up to make it fun.

I missed the beginning, so I missed some good Fey-Poehler moments, but thank-you universe, I got to see George Clooney canoodling Amy Poehler during the best actress in a comedy category moment.

And I got to watch all of Jodie Foster’s speech. Live.

And it made me cry. In a good way. Because it’s 2013, I said something on Facebook almost immediately, and then read a comment and HOLY CRAP–that speech was an instant controversy in a way something can be instant controversy only now, with all our immediate access and RESPOND RESPOND RESPOND modes.  I’m glad I wasn’t looking at f.b. or Twitter when she was speaking, because the people complaining might have colored the speech for me.

It’s a pretty Rorschachy cultural moment, apparently. People who watched the same speech I did thought it was incoherent, fragmented, confusing, and inappropriate. On Twitter and Facebook, people have said she was drunk. On drugs. Unhinged. Or sad. Perhaps in need of professional help.

So far, the only article I’ve read that gets it right (from my perspective) is this one from Salon, “Jodie Foster Comes Out, Gritting Her Teeth,” and even there–I thought she was having more fun than that.

In an attempt to figure out why people are responding so differently, I’ve watched the speech several times and analyzed the transcript. Here’s what I think–it was the tone and the pace and the lack of transitions that made people holler “incoherent!” If you watch the speech again, knowing what’s coming, or look at the transcript, it doesn’t seem so wacky. Or even very disorganized or fragmented.

Some caveats for my analysis: I love Jodie Foster. She could pretty much do or say whatever and I would be fine.

Caveat #2: the speech did feel zoomy to me, sort of flight-of-fancy-paced, but HELLO. I like that kind of zooming, that kind of doesn’t-feel-structured-but-it-is feeling.

What did we expect her to do? I suppose we would have expected a brief “thank you, this town has been very good to me, etc.” speech. Something like her Oscar speech, when she won for The Accused in 1988, a 141-word snippet in which she also thanks her mother. She said, “There are very few things: there’s love and work and family. And this movie is so special to us because it was all three of those things. And I’d like to thank all of my families, the tribes that I come from.”

In contrast, last night’s speech was more than 1,100 words. Nearly ten times as long. Lots of time to do lots more.

And I do know from incoherence. I’ve been teaching first and second-year college students for 25 years now. There’s incoherence (no main point, supporting points that don’t match main point, supporting points that don’t connect to each other), and then there’s subtlety.  I also teach creative writing, including creative nonfiction. There are ways to express ourselves that meander, that don’t add up to incoherence. I think Jodie Foster is more akin to Mary Paumier Jone’s “Meander” than a first-year disorganized essay, or a “bizarre” or “incoherent rant,” as many people are labeling the speech.

What she did, as I outline it, is the following:

  • Start with an insider joke (“Well, for all of you ‘SNL’ fans, I’m 50! I’m 50!”)
  • Thank the person who introduced her (“I want to thank you for everything: for your bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain, the sweet intro. I love you and Susan and I am so grateful that you continually talk me off the ledge when I go on and foam at the mouth and say, ‘I’m done with acting, I’m done with acting, I’m really done, I’m done, I’m done.’” MORE ON THIS LATER. IT IS KEY.)
  • Comment on winning a Lifetime Achievement Award (““Trust me, 47 years in the film business is a long time….”)
  • Announce that she is going to pull a rabbit out of a hat (“So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public.”)
  • Thwart our expectations (“I’m single!”)
  • Explain why she’s thwarting our expectations (After a weird moment without audio–I thought it was my TV, but the ABC transcript says “audio went out,” she picks up with “…be a big coming-out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age….”)
  • Comment on culture in a joking way (“But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show. You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me….)
  • Comment on culture in a serious way (““But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy.”  That BUT SERIOUSLY does count as a transition, btw.)
  • Impart some wisdom (“There are a few secrets to keeping your psyche intact over such a long career. The first, love people and stay beside them.”)
  • Thank people who have helped her (“That table over there, 222, way out in Idaho, Paris, Stockholm, that one, next to the bathroom with all the unfamous faces, the very same faces for all these years.”)
  • Conclude (“I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It’s just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won’t be as sparkly, maybe it won’t open on 3,000 screens, maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall. Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely. Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”)

What’s so fragmented about that? Just because she didn’t say, “Next, I would like to comment on culture in a joking way.”  Really? We needed that? “And finally I would like to conclude.”

I always tell students that transitions are for readers. They’re kind. They’re considerate. Jodie Foster wasn’t being so terribly kind and considerate, I suppose–maybe that’s why people actually seem offended by the PERCEIVED lack of coherence. We thought she was nice! We thought she loved us and wanted us along!

One reason I think this seemed incoherent is not because she was incoherent; I think it’s because she is so freaking smart. Who the hell tries to comment on culture and impart wisdom at the Golden Globes? Jode.

I don’t know that we’ll ever know if this was ad-libbed or totally planned or partly ad-libbed and partly planned or how sober she was. We just heard her thoughts on privacy, after all.  But it stands up pretty well to analysis.

And it’s hilarious in some ways, even though people were mostly NOT laughing at the right places (not at the Golden Globes and judging from Twitter, not in a lot of homes).  If we go with the notion that the biggest component of humor is surprise, we can see she was going for it again and again–starting with “I’m 50!” and tossing out the almost Schecky Green style of “my fellow actors out there, we’ve giggled through love scenes, we’ve punched and cried and spit and vomited and blown snot all over one another — and those are just the costars I liked.” (Someone should have done a rim-shot. Maybe if she’d slowed down and said, “bah dum bum” we’d have gotten it, but no, she was ZOOMING.)

Then she moved on  “I’m single” and then with “I’m not Honey Boo Boo,” which, if she’d allowed us to linger, could have taken us to layers upon layers of serious hilarity. Jodie Foster, beautiful, in a shiny dress that matched her great blue eyes, fit, strong, brilliant, no she is not Honey Boo Boo. But wow. If she did have a reality show….But we didn’t get time to picture it and giggle to ourselves because she went zooming on to “I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air” (which he did laugh at–another reason to love him).

Then there’s all the deep irony of 1)coming out by thanking your longtime lover when HEY!  You just told us you weren’t coming out!  WAIT A MINUTE!  and 2)sending a message to your mother who apparently has dementia and is close to death, which is a pretty goddam intimate thing to do when you were just lecturing us on PRIVACY, 3)and also, there were your sons, which paparazzi are pretty crappy at grabbing snaps of, beautiful boys, right there at your table when you were just lecturing us on PRIVACY….

[And this actually wasn’t the first time she “came out” in public. I’m looking for the link, but she thanked Cydney publicly at least once before and called her her wife–and if her being a lesbian were a secret at all, it was a pretty open secret. I know some people have been angry at her for years for not “coming out” in a big way, but obviously, she wanted to do it her way.]

Caveat #3: I love Robert Downey Jr’s performance in Home for the Holidays, and Foster’s commentary on the DVD of that movie makes it sound like he ad-libbed almost constantly, and that she loved it.

So maybe I wasn’t as startled at the pace and lack of transitions in the speech because Robert Downey Jr. introduced her. He set the tone, and he set the pace. He was ironic almost all the way through, and silly, and almost no one laughed, it seemed, when he praised her for her philanthropy and the Jodie Foster Aquatic Pavilion, which he followed up quickly with a picture of her face photo-shopped onto Bo Derek’s famous “10” shot, with the caption, “Let’s Get Wet!”

He didn’t pause to let any of his jokes sink in. He just plowed on through.

And when she thanked him, she specifically mentioned his “bat-crazed, rapid-fire brain,” and “the sweet intro.”  You know what? The intro wasn’t sweet. It was, I trust, sweetly intended, since they’re friends, but it was mostly for her I think, an individualized, Robert Downey Jr.-ized chunk of what she would find funny.

She just picked up that baton and ran with it, and if we couldn’t keep up, well–we don’t get to hang out with them, do we? We’re not in their league.

Mel Gibson did look a little lost. I’d rather not be in his category of lost-ness.

But it says something, doesn’t it, that the two actors she chose to have at her table are not known for their clear-headedness and decorum? I take from this that she is loyal as the day is long and she has a fondness for the crazy. Both traits I happen to share.

I did feel dizzy at the end of her speech, no doubt, and the “I may never be on stage again” was a very weird moment, but we got a lot of Jodie Foster last night, more than I ever thought we’d get. Just looking at who was at her table–that was a lot, by itself.

She’s been in the public so publicly, so long, I’m not going to say “we got the real Jodie Foster!” There are layers upon layers upon layers there.

But in a room where she feels at home, where she can take whatever tone she wants and zoom however fast she wants, she ended with good news, “I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved,” and what I took to be the storyteller’s basic credo: “Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.”

She finished with “Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.”

That’s why it matters, right, why it was bothering me for people to react to the speech so differently than I did? Because I was, very distantly, keeping her company. I’m 47. Beginning with her picture on the Coppertone bottle (and I could write a whole blog about Coppertone, the very name working as a transporter, and if I ever smell it–wow, I’m gone), she has been a part of my life.

She was never not there.

I wish her well and I loved, loved, loved that speech.

Zoom zoom!

_____

UPDATE: Here’s a story from 2007 when Jodie Foster thanked Cydney Bernard. She isn’t quoted as having said “wife,” so I’m either remembering a different story, or remembering this one wrong, but this is from five years ago.

Purgatory, Kentucky (5/7)

I like to have a quiet place to pray,
and sitting, waiting, in my truck, well that’s
about as quiet as it ever gets
because the radio died in ’88.
When a radio dies where does its music go?
They say sound waves never really go away.
I don’t understand what all I know
about that. I guess I believe that sound’s a wave.
I guess I believe there are tiny bones in my ear,
a hammer and an anvil and a horseshoe? Is that right?
I wonder if they’ll be taking questions there.
I wonder if it’s always kind of twilight.
There’s the ferry now—I guess it’s time
I got myself in gear and got in line.

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Ferry on Highway 169 somewhere in Kentucky (a Creative Commons shot from Edlitmus on Flickr)

What’s Waiting on the Other Side of Turmoil?

–a Thanksgiving poem in a difficult time,
ending with a paraphrase of Julian of Norwich
which also contains a reference to Husker Du

 

What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
We can hope, but the ugly truth is we don’t know
if all will be well and every everything will be well.

We’re partial to our own peculiar ordeal.
Our depth of field’s so shallow it can’t show
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil.

It’s hard to line up the practical with the theological.
Would Julian say, if she got her car stuck in the snow,
“all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well?”

I bet she sometimes just muttered “oh well.”
I bet she had her doubts a mothering God controlled
what’s waiting on the other side of turmoil,

the gruesome news, the shit at work, the hell
through which we make each other go and go and go.
If all will be well and every everything will be well,

the obvious question is when? Does anyone know?
Could one tiny seed of calm actually grow?
What’s waiting on the other side of turmoil?
When will all be well? Will every everything be well?

_____

It does seem to me the setting on turmoil is turned way up lately.  But this Thanksgiving I am trying to nurture little seeds of calm where I can.

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Vanessa Quivertail when she was a baby kitteh.

 

 

Leaving the French Quarter

New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,
I love your blackened bologna, your powdered sugar kiss,
but this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

I’ve rubbed fat blisters on both my feet
rambling the Vieux Carre. Such sweet excess,
New Orleans! You’re a sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

redirecting traffic so the music doesn’t stop.
I love every one of your Marsalises.
This is not my life. I’m glad it’s not,

but watching a finger of fog pointing at the top
of the St. Louis Cathedral, I know I will miss
New Orleans, sexy tuba, shiny and hot,

whose sweaty kiss gives my hair ringlet-
driven waves and curls, which I love, but this—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

There’s music everywhere. Even the drinks
sound like songs. Contessa. Sazerac. O absinthe!
O New Orleans, sexy too muchness, already hot—
this is not my life. I’m glad it’s not.

 

_____

This was my first time at the conference for the Popular Culture Association–it was pretty great. I heard a lot of really good poetry & was so happy to meet new poets and talk poetry.  Went to good panels–I have such smart colleagues in the UW Colleges!  And of course I enjoyed the food and beverage and music aspect.

 

Let me say a little more about the Blackened Bologna.  It was a house special at Evangeline, and I would recommend the restaurant and the dish, invented by an old friend of mine, Jim O’Shea.  We hung out in Carbondale about a million years ago (well, 30+) and haven’t seen each other since, but thanks to Facebook, I knew he was a chef in NOLA, so I made a point of going to Evangeline & I’m glad I did. I talked all my UW Colleges peeps and some new friends into coming along, and everyone’s food was good.  I could NOT resist ordering the Blackened Bologna–too hilarious.  But it actually tasted really good, and if you’re having nostalgic thoughts of friend balonie curling up in the pan, forget that–this is a serious hunk o’ meat.

 

But, even though I had an awesome time, I am happy, happy, happy to be going home to my family and to Wisco, even though there are budget cuts looming like a thunderhead, and even though everything is still early-spring cold and raw and brown and gray.

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these.  Rookie mistake!

The funniest thing was every one of us was wearing black the morning we got these. Rookie mistake!

The Contessa from the French 75--now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

The Contessa from the French 75–now I now what to do with all the rhubarb that SHOULD be coming up soon in Wisco!

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

A sazerac from the Mahogany Bar.

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet--phenomenal!

I got to see the Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet–phenomenal!

Best use of flamingos award.

Best use of flamingos award.

The river this morning.

The river this morning.

Fog coming in off the river.

Fog coming in off the river.