Monday, October 15, 2012

After a Death

After a Death

by Tomas Tranströmer
translated by Robert Bly

Once there was a shock
that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail.
It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy.
It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun
through brush where a few leaves hang on.
They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories.
Names swallowed by the cold.

It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
The samurai looks insignificant
beside his armor of black dragon scales.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Charlie Haden, Egberto Gismonti: Silence

Dry Salvages

People change, and smile: but the agony abides.
Time the destroyer is time the preserver,
Like the river with its cargo of dead negroes, cows and chicken coops,
The bitter apple, and the bite in the apple.
And the ragged rock in the restless waters,
Waves wash over it, fogs conceal it;
On a halcyon day it is merely a monument,
In navigable weather it is always a seamark
To lay a course by: but in the sombre season
Or the sudden fury, is what it always was.

Monday, September 17, 2012

light and cloudshadows

‎"So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.” 
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

The full text of the letter from which this quotation comes.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Peggy Seeger - First time ever I saw your face




What I want to reach for in the wild
landscape is your body.
The folds of your shirt curved around
your lifted arm, the wings
of your back. Your face turned toward the hillside
horizon troubles me because certainty
is unfamiliar, we are so new.

(I spent ten years
waiting for feeling.
I wanted to leap train to train,
spring up a mountain clawed and crested,
lie in a tent with stones
blading into my hips
all night.)

The bones of my body are welcome in this desert.
(I hate the desert, I said. I hate the cacti. I want to go home.)

You take my blood between your fingertips and roll the cells
like fine thread on a loom. Everything is blooming and it is spring.


Before we ever touched, you returned to me a story
that I had mislaid.
The vast blue of desert sky over my girl-eyes,
back flat on the ground,
runner’s breath into the azure
that pressed me down.

Vast I said. And blue. How do you
know, when you are nine,
that you are touching sacred space?
How do you know, when you are
thirty-nine, or fifty?

: When the lover disappears and the beloved disappears.
When there is nothing but sky.


(The desert scared hell out of me and I was foreign in it,
unfound. Detroit, I chanted. ConcreteClouds.

I threw out two ice scrapers, a steel snow shovel,
and all of my super-wool up-north socks.
No one listening.
Leather jacket! Bar shows,
gyrations, gasoline.


Your face turned toward the hillside horizon is an act of love. Poetry,
I said quietly.
Thirty feet east could be the one.


The desert sings to you and you follow the rituals in the song.

My dark bird self-flung into the canyon,
landing nowhere. Symbols drained, incantations lost
their comfort. Taken down. Your face turned to the hillside.
Horizon your face. We walked together in the desert

and I felt the sky again.
(Aging invisible as torn paper,
silence a cotton choke, unseen accretion
crudely swallowed.)

Turned and saw. To the hillside, the plants—

And stones, the first one picked up and carried talismanic,
glinting chips of mica through the knuckles of my fist.

Spines and nodules, tangles, 
mats of bristling defense

in starlike heat exposed. My face raw and recognized.

Beyond ground, we reach the wild landscape.
I open my throat to the hum we make.

Six miles apart, you hold my blood between your fingers.
Welcome, body, home. 

-Amanda Michno

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Ultimate Insult

From the comments on an article regarding the construction of affordable housing at the corner of Una and Apache in Tempe, where Gracie's Thrift Store is now:

"The ultimate insult to those of us who can afford to live in nice places is putting low income housing near our homes. You live where you can afford to. It makes us folks who have studied and worked hard for many decades very angry at this kind of PC garbage. Perhaps the government at some level should subsidize me living in a multi-million dollar house somewhere because I can "only" afford a half-million dollar house. I used to be very liberal, but as I grow older, I become more conservative because I'm fed up with those who have-not demanding part of my money to give them things they cannot afford. Taking anyone's money without their permission is called theft and just because the govenment does it, does not make it right or legal. Sooner or later this stupidity from our elected leaders will drive us affluent folks out of this country. Thousands have already left."

 Few perspectives capture so succinctly the utterly addle-pated "logic" of the Arizona Conservative.

From the article:

"Gracie’s Village would be open only to residents with low or moderate incomes, between about $18,000 and $52,000. Gorman attorney Manjula Vaz said a project like this is important because it provides housing for people such as teachers, food service workers and others who work in Tempe but can’t afford to live there."

I (a teacher) lived there, in a threadbare Rentals Tempe house, for nearly $1000 a month, with the help of my cohabitator (an ASU graduate student). Tempe is simply one scam after another. Not far from where I live now, a 2 bedroom house was on the rental market for $1450 a month. Yes, a very nice house, in the "desirable" Maple/Ash neighborhood, but $1450 a month is laughable. There's a sucker born every minute, definitely.

The area repeatedly prioritizes fast money over community. And Tempe is known as a somewhat "progressive" enclave in brick red AZ. Funny and sad.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hysterical University Heights, Tempe, AZ

The supposedly charitable thrift store in my old neighborhood, east of ASU, plans to build a 50 unit, 90,000 square foot apartment complex, 4 stories high, on hardly any land, on an already cramped corner. As usual, this behemoth of a motel-style apartment complex has a charming and quaint name: Gracie's Village. Man, that thrift store must really be doing well by doing good. It must take a lot of 50% off sales of half-broken 20-year-old household crap and out of style, vaguely sweat stained clothes to get financing for such a project. But then, I guess anything is possible when you have Jeebus and all the saints on your side. It is intended to be an affordable housing development, which might explain why my old neighbors are so up in arms about it. As if the same neighborhood that hosts Long Wong's and Baker's Acre has very much of the stupid, utterly fake "upscale" feel (as represented by the hideous Grigio apartments, for example) to defend.

I predict the city of Tempe will rubber stamp the project, just like all of the other insane, unplanned, ugly development all over town, all over most of Arizona that has been defiled by the get rich quick morons who somehow still manage to get financing for elaborate commercial projects that befoul the landscape and often sit empty for months at a time. A conservative estimate has about 20 people getting obscenely rich while thousands are forced to tolerate ever increasing levels of garish, big box, overdeveloped, unrented retail and living space.

My former neighbors are up in arms, of course. It's very funny to me that the article mentions the overgrown lawns. Rentals Tempe has a few properties back here, and holds the line on requiring tenants to do all the yardwork, a ridiculous proposition that consumed hours and hours of labor when we lived there. The other absurdity is that these boxy, cookie cutter cinder-block-construction ranch homes from only a few decades ago could even get designation as a "historic neighborhood." Clearly, "history" in AZ means anything that happened about 50 years ago. Combine this utterly surreal sense of "history" with the outrageously overpriced real estate in these neighborhoods (even after the crooked real estate bubble vomited blood and died, there were a still few University Heights 3 bedrooms going for more than 200K), and you get a more complete picture of just how distorted the perspectives are.

I love this quotation from the story: ""But the people in the neighborhood believes there is crime do to the less fortunate.'" I never thought any of the very occasional crime in the old neighborhood was "do to" Gracie's. I always thought it was due to the whole funky ass flavor of Apache Boulevard, with cadres of drunks hanging out at the bus stop at McClintock, throwing beer cans at passers by, hollering obscenities to the sky, wandering into yards and passing out. But this is no different from anywhere else in this general area of Tempe, largely constituted of endless puke colored strip malls full of payday loan companies, liquor stores, convenience stores, "cash for gold" fly-by-night crooks with dogged sign spinners sweating gallons on the sidewalk, coin-operated car washes and huge apartment complexes entirely devoid of class or soul. Given this thoroughly beat and squalid context, the endlessly replicated, obscenely overpriced cockroach infested brick boxes surrounded by howling dogs, inhabited by insane hoarders and gall durned collidj kids of University Heights seem charming indeed.

Definitely a quality of life worth preserving.


Saturday, April 07, 2012

Big Bend, Frozen Hard and Dried to a Crisp

Last March of 2011, for spring break, I drove through southern NM to Big Bend and camped for a few nights. It was a brutal winter there, with temperatures hitting record lows and very hard frosts even as far south as Presidio. In addition, it has been unrelentingly dry. This combination led to very sere conditions, but beauty still abounded, as it does in the desert, even if times have been lean.

Echinomastus dasyacanthus at Anthony Gap, NM:

The expansive, completely deserted view from my primitive tent site at Big Bend, in Dagger Flats.

Up in Chisos Basin:

Opuntia rufida:

Grusonia densispina:

The sunsets were outstanding and heartbreakingly beautiful:

Echinocereus russanthus in Chisos Basin:

The limestone flats near Lajitas:

Thelocactus bicolor, hunkered down and dried out for the long haul, all spines and attitude:

Epithelantha bokei doing its best to look like soft serve ice cream:

Grusonia aggeria:

One of my favorite Big Bend plants, Echinomastus mariposensis:

Mammillaria lasiacantha:

Mammillaria pottsii:

An extravagant Thelocactus bicolor:

An unusually spined Echinomastus warnockii, with central spines reminiscent of unguispinus from down in MX:

Anotehr mariposensis:

An ancient Ariocarpus fissuratus:

Hechtia texensis:

One eerie morning, the entire Dagger Flats area was socked in with a low, silent fog.

The campsite:


A sign outside Lordsburg:

Astonishing Escobaria albicolumnaria near Terlingua:

Glandulicactus wrightii:

Wonderful Opuntia at Dagger Flats:

Another Echinomastus warnockii:

A beautiful Echinocereus outside Deming, NM, on the way home.

The distinctive form of Mammillaria grahamii from southern NM:

Echinocereus arizonicus nigrihorridispinus (I think) near Granite Gap NM.

Back in Big Bend, a very feathery Mammillaria lasiacantha:

In Granite Gap again, Escobaria orcuttii:

I stopped near Tucson on the way back and took some flower pics of Echinomastus erectocentrus. There were no flowers in Big Bend, so it was nice to see a few.

It was a very full week.

Take A Pew - Alan Bennett

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Nick Drake - Pink Moon

From the Farmer's Almanac: Full Pink Moon – April This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this month’s celestial body include the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

Evan Parker - St Michael And All Angels, Chiswick, London, 11 October 2001

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Adrienne Rich's National Book Medal Acceptance Speech

"It's a great pleasure to receive his medal from the fine poet Mark Doty. I am tremendously honored by the legacy of writers who have received this award, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Eudora Welty, Studs Terkel, Toni Morrison, writers who broke ground, worked against the grain, made other kinds of writing possible. I thank those who have helped me persevere. My publishers of 40 years, the venerable employee owned by WW Norton, my editor, Jill Bialosky, my literary agent, the great Frances Goldin, and my everywhere-enabling representative Steven Barclay. Above all my sons David, Pablo, and Jacob Conrad, and Michelle Cliff, my companion of 30 years.

In his 1821 essay “The Defense of Poetry,” Shelley claimed that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Piously over- quoted, mostly out of context, this has been taken to suggest that simply by virtue of composing verse, poets exert some exemplary moral power in a vague, unthreatening way. In fact, in an earlier political essay, Shelley had written that poets and philosophers are “the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” The philosophers he was talking about were revolutionary-minded Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Voltaire, Mary Wollstonecraft. And Shelley was, no mistake, out to change the legislation of his time. For him, there was no contradiction between poetry, political philosophy, and active confrontation with illegitimate authority. For him, art bore an integral relationship to the struggle between revolution and oppression. His west wind was the trumpet of a prophecy driving dead thoughts like withered leaves to quicken a new birth. He did not say poets are the unacknowledged interior decorators of the world.

I am both a poet and one of the everybodies of my country. I live in poetry and daily experience with manipulated fear, ignorance, cultural confusion, and social antagonism huddling together on the fault line of an empire. I hope never to idealize poetry. It has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal poetry, anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming intertwining histories to which they belong. There is room, indeed, necessity, for both Neruda and Cesar Vallejo, for Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alfonsina Storni, for Audre Lorde and Aime Cesaire, for both Ezra Pound and Nelly Sachs. Poetries are no more pure and simple than human histories are pure and simple. Poetry like silk, or coffee, or oil, or human flesh has had its trade routes, and there are colonized poetics and resilient poetics, transmissions across frontiers not easily traced. Poetry has sometimes been charged with aestheticizing, being complicit in the violent realities of power, of practices like collective punishment, torture, rape, and genocide. The accusation famously invoked in Adorno is “After the Holocaust lyric poetry is impossible,” which Adorno later retracted and which a succession of Jewish poets have in their practice rejected. But if poetry had gone mute after every genocide in history, there would be little poetry left in the world. If to aestheticize is to glide across brutality and cruelty, treat them merely as opportunities for the artist rather than structures of power, to be described and dismantled, much hangs on that word “merely.” Opportunism isn’t the same as committed attention. But we can also define the aesthetic not as a privileged and sequestered rendering of human suffering, but as news of an awareness, a resistance which totalizing systems want to quell, art reaching into us for what is still passionate, still unintimidated, still unquenched.

In North America, poetry has been written off on other counts. It is not a mass-market product. It doesn't get sold on airport newsstands or in supermarket aisles. The actual consumption figures for poetry can't be quantified at the checkout counter. It’s too difficult for the average mind. It’s too elite, but the wealthy don’t bid for it at Sotheby's. It is, in short, redundant. This might be called the free market critique of poetry. There's actually an odd correlation between these ideas. Poetry is either inadequate, even immoral in the face of human suffering, or it's unprofitable, hence useless. Either way, poets are advised to hang our heads or fold our tents. Yet, in fact, throughout the world, transfusions of poetic language can and do quite literally keep bodies and souls together and more. Because when poetry lays its hand on our shoulder, we can be to an almost physical degree touched and moved. The imagination’s roads open again, giving the lie to that slammed and bolted door, that razor-wired fence, that brute dictum. There is no alternative. Of course, like the consciousness behind it, behind any art, a poem can be deep or shallow, glib or visionary, prescient or stuck in an already lagging trendiness. What's pushing the grammar and syntax, the sounds, the images? Is it literalism, fundamentalism, professionalism -- a stunted language? Or is the great muscle of metaphor drawing strength from resemblance in difference. Poetry has the capacity in its own ways and by its own means to remind us of something we are forbidden to see, a forgotten future, a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, torture and bribes, outcast and tribe, but on the continuous redefining of freedom. That word now held in house arrest by the rhetoric of the free market. This ongoing future written-off over and over is still within view. All over the world its paths are being rediscovered and reinvented through collective action, through many kinds of art. And there's always that in poetry, which will not be grasped, which cannot be described, which survives our ardent attention, our critical theories, our classrooms, our late-night arguments. There's always (I'm quoting the poet-translator Americo Ferrari) an unspeakable where perhaps the nucleus of the living relation between the poem and the world resides.
Thank you all very much."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Early last April, I started a search for an obscure form of Echinomastus, long synonimized with Echinomastus johnsonii, an entity described by JP Hester in 1934 as Echinomastus arizonicus. It was originally recorded from Yuma County and that confused me for a good while, as Yuma County currently is far south of any likely johnsonii territory. It wasn't until some more research that I found out that E. arizonicus is localized in Maricopa and La Paz Counties, and that the La Paz County plants are in territory that used to be Yuma County. Anyway, my search originally took me west of Phoenix toward Bouse, AZ.

O. basilaris already flowering in the lowlands.

I think these are Cylindropuntia Xcongesta, but I'm not positive. They might just be especially congested echinocarpa.

I went down an old mining road and found some great habitat for Ferocactus cylindraceus and Echinocereus engelmannii, but no Echinomastus.

A forest of Cylindropuntia bigelovii.

The only crested Ferocactus cylindraceus I have seen.

Cylindropuntia flower.

On the way back out from Bouse, I caught sight of this small herd of desert bighorns. Breathtaking borregos.

Another stop for more searching for Echinomastus, to no avail. Some beauty, however.

Interesting transitional desert out here, with some markers of the Mojave and some of the Sonoran.

I was determined to see some Echinomastus, so I drove up Vulture Mine Road to a population that seems to have some characters of both johnsonii and arizonicus, south of Wickenburg.

The next weekend, a friend and I did indeed find the Echinomastus arizonicus outside Bouse. Stay tuned.