Friday, April 29, 2005


May 05 email newsletter
Vol. 2, No. 5

Richland College renewed my "10 Elements of Creative Expression" class for a summer session and two fall sessions. Also for the fall semester, Trinity Valley Community College in Athens scheduled two sessions of "10 Elements of Creative Expression" and two sessions of a new class, "Low-Key Public Speaking." I look forward to the classes making and to having a good time learning as much as I teach at these sessions.


Still sleepy, I drove west through fields of patch fog as the sun slowly rose from the east. I rubbed my eyes awake with still-cool hands. Brent Mitchell's "Cemetery Angel" and then "The Wind" played on the car stereo.

Mitchell sang,
"When I was a young man, I was living on the road / And sometimes slept in graveyards, just to be left alone. / The cemetery angels were too lovely to be real, / But they let me sleep beside them, and my loneliness they healed."

And,"“Be still now, boy / be still a while. You will have all your restless life to roam. / See how I wander / Never to rest, / And I have no place to call my own."

Fog slowly dissipated. Through delicate colors, the sky turned from dark to light. I looked for signs, found only billboards. A flock of birds flew across the near horizon, needing neither roads nor reading.

Just after 7 a.m., I turned into a small curve and the yellow ball of sun assaulted me through the rearview mirror. Traffic on Highway 80 going into Dallas began to thicken like an artery. By 7:30, traffic choked on LBJ Freeway. Within 15 minutes, I cursed quietly to myself and began to study faces in the cars. Miranda Lambert’s angry "Kerosene" played, then the wistful, if cliched, "Greyhound Bound for Nowhere."

I yawned. My stomach rumbled. I promised myself patience, and to spend hours not watching the clock.

My first stop, my only scheduled stop, was at Sheffield Elementary in Carrollton where, as part of a volunteer group, I challenged and entertained 80 second-graders. A 91-year-old poet read some of her work. A group of musicians told and sang a confronting-nature story.

In the last 15 minutes, the 80 second-graders and I enthusiastically wrote, as a teacher tried to enforce order but only got in the way, a kinda silly free-verse poem about pizza and soccer and Friday and classmates Sarah and Hayden. I may have undone months of discipline training as the children shouted out options, and once began, fists waving in the air, to chant "Hayden, Hayden, Hayden."

Afterward, one little girl walked up to me and grinned. Big. Didn't say anything, just grinned. I spoke to her. She grinned bigger, silent and persistent.

For the rest of the day, I drove through Northeast Texas, stopping to ask people if they knew April was National Poetry Month, and reading them poems. (One of the few problems with road trips is that they end.)

I drove east past Zion Road and Horizon Road to stop in Fate.

Inside the (city) limits of Fate, the first building I noticed on my left was the House of Pain. Turned out to be a place that sold "sportswear with attitude."

I stopped at the tiny Fate post office to leave some words with the messenger.

"Do you know that it's National Poetry Month?"

"No," the clerk said.

"May I read you a poem?"

"Oh. Sure, if I don't get any customers." A customer came in; she said okay, too.

Self-conscious, facing two pleasant but basically indifferent women, I read "To See Perfect Stillness in Soil & Soul," a poem about a runaway girl I spoke to, briefly, at Jackson Square in New Orleans, who haunts me. The girl, filled with tentative smiles, looked so farm-fresh and scared.

blond dust, maybe
16 or 17 years old, blew into
New Orleans
on the wind of her own sorrow,
a piece of a smile
at one end of her mouth

eyes look for, I suppose, survival

I almost touch her to soothe

the wind pushes her around
during early daylight hours and
again as the sun begins to slip away

after dusk, the dust is very still

sometime in the night
a sweet young breeze from the south touches her face
like understanding flowing into truth

Down the street, I stopped at Fate Grocery and Gas, which is next door to Fate Cleaners. Two pretty high school girls just about the runaway's age worked the counter. A boy talked with the girls. A slow-moving old man sits on a bench outside.

"Do you know that it’s National Poetry Month?"

"No," one girl said.

"May I read you a poem?"

"Yes," she said, looking somewhat interested or at least curious. She called the other girl over, the boy asked to see the stack of chapbooks in my hand, and the old man came inside. Still self-conscious, I read them "Nameless Things," written for someone I love, as a city worker with his name on his shirt came into the store with another customer. Each listened as I read.

the winter solstice, a brisk night,
just a few clouds, the moon through the window

I light seven scented candles
one for soil,
so that I may have roots

one for air,
so that I may breathe

one for fruit and grain,
so that I may eat and drink

one for revolution,
so that I may know light and dark, cycles & patterns and complexity

one for sky,
so that I may soar

one for water,
so that I may be clean

one for inhaling and exhaling with the golden muse,
so that I may exist

When I was done, the boy told me he began writing poetry when his brother died. One girl returned to the kitchen to knead pizza dough; the other wanted me to ask the high school principal if I could do a program at the school.

The city worker, smiling and proud, said, "My son writes poetry, the nerd. He’s getting published." I knew of the online publisher, and confirmed what the man suspected but didn't care. The publisher lures writers with promises of publication in a book and on a CD; each is way over-priced and each poet is urged to buy copies.

I stopped at Caddo Mills City Hall, next to Mona Lisa Pizza. For the city manager, a court clerk, and a receptionist, I read a prose piece, "The Two of Us Come Upon a Statue of Limitations."

The two of us come upon a statue of limitations along the side of the road, discussing buried pleasures with the grim weeper softly enough to wake the dread. So softly, silently, that we can’t hear them as we walk by, shivering, the smell of regret heavy in the air.

"We have seen bitter days," one says. "We've seen the stuff that screams are made of."

"We have been convicted of high crimes of reason," the other says. "Of the joy of forgasm."

"We have also, regrettably, committed crimes of ration."

"We have seen the cold heart facts."

"We know that furiousity killed the cat."

"We have gone to the inane asylum, and heard the intellectual simulation. We have heard great expectorations."

"We have heard cheap trills and actual sighs."

"We know that the meek shall inherit the dearth, and that too often it’s binders keepers."

"We have drunk from the primal stream."

"We have seen a simple twist of faith, and taken it for granite."

"We have seen paradise tossed."

"We have heard glibberish, and seen the irreal."

"But, I swear on a stack of baubles, we are spinning too much time on this rite to remain silent."

"Dust will yet conquer us."

"That's an extinct possibility."

"“May we rust in peace."

Nothing but the wind blowing . . .

The city manager laughed often and deep; the clerk and receptionist smiled, self-conscious. I drove on, crossing the Middle Sulphur River. The road seemed a practical imposition on the fields of bluebonnets, red clover, paintbrush, and little white and yellow blossoms amidst the dominant spring green.

At The Children’s Museum in Greenville, a woman and man stood in the doorway. It was 4 p.m.

"Hi,"” I said, "are you open?"

"Are we open? No."

I did not tell them about the poetry or the little girl who grinned so big.

Along the highway, I came to a portable building with a Harley Davidson logo in a window and a big sign above: Heavenly Scent Candles and Gifts.

I stopped and read the obvious poem -- "Nameless Things" -- again. The quiet, vaguely middle-aged lady at the counter told me her son died two years ago and that she's been reading more poetry ever since.

"Thank you for brightening my day," she said. She suggested I stop at Miller's Pharmacy on the square in Cooper, and that I ask for the man who inherited the pharmacy from his father.

The middle-aged man, busy and slightly cautious, asked me, "Is she paying you to do this?"

"No," I told him.

He took a break from work, and, when I asked for directions to Pecan Gap and Ben Franklin, spoke of the beauty of wildflowers along the road to those tiny towns.

I read "Geranium-Powered Reactor" to the man, to an elderly lady cleaning the counter, and to a customer. The man and the lady listened carefully, and seriously pondered the meaning of the poem, which is about the relationship between art and the artist.

tall, thin little girl
with long, black hair
and a Bermuda Triangle smile

in the oil-drenched painting,
in a field of colorful flowers,
she kneels to the luring scent

overwhelmed by this world,
she creates her own artist’s life
as she inhales the magic

as he paints, he smiles and feels
the responsibilities of knowing
her secret fears and secret joys

later, the girl exhales reality,
shrugs her maturing shoulders,
and sashays away like a work of art

By my presence if not my words, I was a messenger. The man who owned the pharmacy told me he had lost touch with the woman at the gift shop and with her husband after the couple's son died and they had moved away.

Pecan Gap, Pop. 214. I looped through the little town with its feed & seed, used-car dealer, post office, city hall, café, and a few homes. The café seemed to be the only place open.

I drove down a one-lane, blacktop road to the well-tended cemetery, where there were more grave markers than there were residents in the town. Graves dated from the mid 1800s to a few days ago. A veterans' memorial -- two dark pieces of marble flanking an American flag, held 124 names -- 120 on the older piece of marble, four new ones on the second piece, with room for 116 more.

I did not want to disturb the living in Pecan Gap. I did not see any cemetery angels. Standing beside graves, I read a short poem, "Slow Dance, Close, to a Jazz Song."

slow dance, close, to a jazz song,
to a hymn,
to the gospel truth

piano, bass, sax, violin, cello;
slow dance, close, to jazz notes frozen
in an art museum
in sunlight angling from a high window,
(like a Calder mobile without wires)

slow dance, between all the frozen notes

The little town of Ben Franklin was even smaller, unincorporated, no pop listed, but with three cemeteries. I left both the living and the dead alone, unless my passing had some unknown consequence.

The few readings had gone so well that I wondered if I were avoiding the chance to fail.

Ah, Paris. In Europe, the fabled City of Lights. Of romance and wine. Of literature and cemeteries. In Northeast Texas, Paris was the place where I wanted pizza more than I wanted to share poetry. I ate mediocre pizza at a place that gives away Bibles to customers.

I drove south to where I find myself staying. The sun was low in the west at first, casting clear light and long Salvador Dali shadows. The sky slowly turned delicate, peaceful colors until darkness came. I contemplated what to write.
Just before nightfall, I stopped at Birthright. It's just a sign for another little dispersed community. Across the street from the sign is another cemetery.

Put into different words, perhaps too obvious, today I traveled the road between Birthright and the cemetery with no place to call my own in this odd little life. Little-girl grins. Fate and runaways. Peace and comfort in art. Love and labor. Loss and search. The road. Poetry and, of course, pizza. Delicacy in the sky, as part of the revolution.