Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Get Your Gettysburg Review

Although I have not yet seen the issue, the Winter 2006 issue of The Gettysburg Review is about to hit shelves and mailboxes. It contains an essay I wrote, my first, and I'd be grateful if you supported the journal by ordering an issue (and reading it!) The Gettysburg Review

Autumnal Landscape

If you do not consider yourself a poet, hang out in landscapes like this and you'll soon become broody enough to put Dylan Thomas to shame. Seriously. We're talking moooody blues here. Apparently the sun left for Florida some weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Like a Pair of Old Shoes

We drove out of Rocheport at an hour so early on Friday we saw the other end of night for the first time since we arrived in Missouri. Headed straight into the first rays of sunrise topping I-70 east towards St. Louis. Along the roadside, in blue gray fields, thick mist steamed from warm ponds into air not yet warmed to above freezing. A nonstop 2 hr. flight later, we landed at Bush Airport, disembarking in Terminal B where waiting passengers filled every chair and lined every wall, all the way up the concourse. We had expected a bit of big city re-entry shock but this was extreme even for Houston. And then the further strangeness of catching the rental bus, picking up a car and heading to our downtown hotel. After a four month absence, Houston seemed changed in one of those vague and unidentifiable ways, like it had shaved its beard or gotten its braces off or colored its hair.

But an hour later we were sitting at our old table at Khyber Pass, enjoying Chicken Tiki Marsala, and the world had untilted and it was if we’d never left.

Friday night friends who’d come for the reading joined us at Last Concert Cafe. We walked the couple of blocks to the warehouse district to a restaurant I had not been to in years (not since the days when the Galactic Cowboys had rented a rehearsal space in a warehouse opposite), one in which you had to know to look for the red door and knock three times for entry. What could be more comfortable and comforting, more stimulating and gratifying, than sitting around a table laden with bottomless bowls of just hot enough salsa, still warm tortilla chips and familiar laughter of friends with whom you have trekked through the myriad ups and downs, the joys and the idiocy, the twists and turns and inevitable dramas of your one and only little life. Your friends/cast mates in the story you were plopped into, a story bigger than the sum of its actors. You become each other’s biggest fans, severest critics, most accurate mirrors. True friends are one of life’s most inadvertent gifts, and most necessary. We left there warmed and filled.

Saturday allowed us ample time to revisit places we’d taken for granted for years as just around the corner including the CAM, Harris Gallery, Brazos Bookstore, etc. as well as a bit of shopping at Rice Village and a nice long visit over coffee with Maleah at Solento. Maleah has been beside me, literally, at some of the most pivotal moments of my life: her desk was feet from mine as we worked on the 7th floor of the Worthem Tower on Allen Parkway, overlooking the bayou through floor to ceiling windows. She was there when I “met” Wayne; she was there when I got the phone call telling me I’d lost my brother. She was there, too, when our boss dropped his drawers and mooned the window washers. Now there’s some mileage for you.

Saturday night all our former neighbors/friends from Branard came downtown for a festive dinner at Mia Bella, only a block’s walk from our hotel. Through the years we’ve shared our lives, our kids, our porches and backyards. Fed each other’s pets, picked up mail, babysat kids, blown out candles. Had a lot of laughs, a lot of hugs. A great night.

Sunday, after getting in half a service at ecclesia and coffee and bagels at Brasil, it was time to head back home. A place we are making our own—softening the leather, acquiring scuff marks, achieving just the right patina for a still quite new pair of shoes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Houston Poetry Fest

This weekend I'll be heading back to Houston for the first time since we moved in June, this time as a visitor. I'm reading Friday night at the Houston Poetry Fest, along with Tonya Foster, visiting poet from UH-D, and this year's juried poets at Willow Street Pump Station, 811 N. San Jacinto.

When I read last year, I had no idea that when the next Fest rolled around I'd be flying to it from a new home almost 1000 miles away. It will be strange to arrive as a visitor to a place I called home for 17 years. We have big plans for hitting old favs like Brazos Bookstore, Texas Art, Texas Junk and Brasil, some good Mexican restaurants and especially hanging out with friends. I must say I'm looking forward to conversations with people I've known longer than 4 months. A young cowboy who'd lead us on a trialride in the Grand Canyon years ago told my friend Sherry and I in attempt to flatter us, "it's not the years, it's the mileage". I say it's the years and the mileage. There's no substiture for an old friend.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Get Lost

Whenever I travel I like to find a good book to bring home as a souvenir. In that way I have a memento of my journey as recorded on its inside cover and can justify yet another expenditure in books to that category's over inflated bottom line. I bought the book I’ve just finished in Santa Fe this summer. Karen and I took the free day from the week long conference we attended to escape to nearby Taos, as well as the tiny villages along the way, all of which boasted some form or other of art gallery. We investigated an assortment of them including one that wound from the front patio of a small abode home and on through the kitchen, living room, hallways, bedrooms and bathrooms, every square inch of which held an oil painting created by the proprietor’s gray pony-tailed husband. It was a delicious day of wandering, lingering, chatting with locals and borrowing their restrooms, browsing and sampling New Mexican tamales on a brightly sunshined, tiled patio engorged with flowers and vines. We meandered about the historic square in Taos, drinking local coffee and perusing the local bookstore. I picked up a volume, initially drawn by its cover: melancholy blue grays of what could be conceived as skies over a texture of canvas or cloth or paper as backdrop to a shadowy image running along the bottom of the cover suggesting a mysteriously dark, fuzzy, landscape. The edges blur between light and dark. Is the light area absorbing the black into itself like a paper towel absorbs liquid or is the light area staving off encroaching darkness? Are the boundaries fixed?

Appropriate questions for a book entitled, “A Field Guide to Getting Lost” by Rebecca Solnit. I bought the book and stuck it in my bag until it was time for us to head back to Santa Fe. There was a party that night I wanted to attend. We had come out on the high road and as sun set we made our way back, curving around mountains and alongside a river on the low road, and tried to figure out which route we’d liked best. And then somehow as we approached Santa Fe we got lost and found ourselves approaching Santa Fe again, passing the same exit for Santa Fe Opera we had passed some minutes before, now in total darkness. It seemed we circled the town forever without being able to figure out how to get into it, at least the section we were looking for. When we finally got back I had all but missed the party. This happened repeatedly for the next couple of days, constant disorientation and wrong turns in what is really a small and manageable city, especially for one that had recently navigated Houston on a daily basis. I remembered then the book was still in my bag and I blamed it like a bad luck charm. I read only a couple of pages before it was time to pack up and fly back to a town that was not the one I had returned to after every previous flight for 17 years, itself a disorienting reality.

So it was only in the last week or two that I dug the book out again and really started to read it, finding it tremendously gratifying. Solnit writes extensively of New Mexico and of lostness, of wilderness, displacement, transformation, Terra Incognito, of how geography is so much a part of our interior landscapes, all things I have recently been exquisitely made aware of. A favorite motif is “the blue of distance” which Solnit, an art critic as well, tracks from 15th century European painters to contemporary Yves Klein. I made sure I had a pencil in hand any time I picked the book back up.

Solnit's writing is full of poetic leaps and metaphors such as this:

Movies are made out of darkness as well as light; it is the surpassingly brief intervals of darkness between each luminous still image that makes it possible to assemble the many images into one moving picture. Without that darkness, there would only be a blur....It is the terra incognita of film, the dark continent on every map. In a similar way, a runner’s every step is a leap, so that for a moment he or she is entirely off the ground. For those brief instants, shadows no longer spill out from their feet, like leaks, but hover below them like doubles, as they do with birds, whose shadows crawl below them, caressing the surface of the earth....We fly; we dream in darkness; we devour heaven in bites too small to be measured.

I recommend Solnit’s book and whether driving or not, plan on getting exquisitely lost.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Black is beautiful

I never thought I’d find myself, at any time or in any place, singing the praises of asphalt. On Friday, the chalky white gravel road I’ve tasted for months was steam rolled with black oily goo in preparation for some kind of hard surface. How my heart praised pavement! After four months of trying to orient myself toward the charms of dust, I confess total and absolute defeat. Perhaps I spent too many years dwelling in versions of Sonny and Cher’s paved paradise, perhaps I’ve regressed to my childhood Tony Randall-ish prissiness which spurred many a mud stained friend’s irritated mother to demand of mine how she kept me so clean, perhaps I fear a diagnosis of dust lung disease. But whatever the reasons, I have lost patience with drought induced road dust of Biblical proportions. Now I know why there are so many DUST references in the Bible and now I UNDERSTAND them. You could write the Gettsyburg address on our dashboard. You could plant ivy in the dust that falls on my counters when I unload the grocery bags from inside the car. You could achieve instantaneous gray hair for your Halloween costume by opening the air vent on the way to the General Store. This is not the dust born of human skin that lingers in curtains and carpets causing asthma, allergies and cute little dustbunnies under the bed. The Sisyphusian battle to conquer such dust explains perfectly how a band from neighboring Kansas could pen the lyrics, “all we are is dust in the wind” and “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky”. I would argue that nothing lasts forever but the earth IN the sky. But fortunately for me, just before I succumbed to certain dust ridden existential despair, the department of road paving stepped in to save my dusty soul. Sorry Sonny and Cher.