Sunday, October 02, 2005


A Single Gift for My Six Muses, Given Many Times

for my muse for beauty and intelligence
for my muse for listening and longing
for my muse for passion and perseverance
for my muse for art and conscious living
for my muse for distance and compassion
for my muse for enigma and growth

for what each teaches me
for what, together, they teach me

I know each so intimately, and not at all

I give each my attention, my beginner’s mind
free of all expectations but wander . . .

. . . to wander through their souls at will,

to be right here, right now,

. . . so free that freedom isn’t even a concept

* * * * *

Among other notions, the exodus from New Orleans made me wonder what I might take with me if I were to get into my car -- the Dodge Neon with 93,000 miles on the odometer -- and simply drive away, seeking the calm rather than the storm. What would fit in the car, and why would I take it?

A suitcase or three of clothes. The Willie Nelson miracle candle, which I’ve never lit. The tiny brass dragon that will never fly but would look good hanging from my rearview window.

My computer, which keeps me in touch with the world. My chapbooks, which keep tiny pieces of the world in touch with me. Paper and pens, of course. The digital camera. A few hand tools, which feel good in my hands. Some photos and mementos from close family and friends.

My illusions. A pillow to hug, and a blanket to cover myself.

I would take a box of books, but would not allow myself, officially, to take more than one from any writer. Here’s the list:

Non-fiction: Gerald Burns, Toward a Phenomenology of Written Art; Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz; Jane Hirshfield, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry; William A. Owens, This Stubborn Soil; Charles Simic, The Unemployed Fortune-Teller: Essays and Memoir; Charles Bukowski, What Matters Most is How Well You Walk Through the Fire.

Poetry: Jim Harrison, The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems. (I might try to find space under the passenger seat for some Simic and some Richard Brautigan.)

Novels and other stories: Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar; Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities; Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude; Joseph Heller, Catch 22; Jack Kerouac, On the Road; J.D. Salinger, Nine Stories; Peter Straub, Ghost Story; D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel; J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings; Mark Twain, A Pen Warmed in Hell; Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five: Or The Children’s Crusade; Jane Wagner (performed by Lily Tomlin), The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. (And something by Dylan Thomas to slide under the seat.)

I would take a box of CDs, with three rules: they have to be in my collection now; I can choose no more than one by any artist; and I can fit only 60 into a travel box. (If I were really doing this, I’d find a way to take at least one more box.) Here’s the fantasy list, alphabetized by first name:

Adam Carroll, Adam Carroll Live
Alejandro Escovedo, A Man Under the Influence
Billy Joe Shaver, Victory
Blind Willie Johnson, The Complete Blind Willie Johnson
Brent Mitchell, Brent Mitchell
Caitlin Cary & Thad Cockrell, Begonias
Charles Mingus, The Charles Mingus Anthology
Crooked Still, Hop High
David Olney, The Wheel
Deadman, Our Eternal Ghosts
Doc Watson, The Essential Doc Watson
Donald Byrd, Band &Voices: A New Perspective
Doug Burr, The Sickle & The Sheaves
Eliza Gilkyson, Redemption Road
Eric Taylor, Scuffletown
Gourds, Ghosts of Hallelujah
Gropius, Songs for Walter
Guy Clark, Keepers
James McMurtry, Live in Aught-Three
Jay Johnson bootleg compilation
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, After Awhile
Jimmy Giuffre, The Train and the River
Jo Carol Pierce, Bad Girls Upset By The Truth
Joan Baez, Baez Sings Dylan
Joe Ely, Streets of Sin
John Coltrane, Retrospective: The Impulse Years
Jon Dee Graham, The Great Battle
Judith Owen, Lost and Found
Julie and Buddy Miller, Buddy & Julie Miller
Katy Moffatt, The Greatest Show on Earth, also known as The Evangeline Hotel
Keith Jarrett, The Koln Concert
Kimmie Rhodes, West Texas Heaven
Lightnin’ Hopkins, Jake Head Boogie
Lisa Markley, Live at Gloria Dei Nights
Lucinda Williams, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road
Marvin “Hannibal” Peterson, The Angels of Atlanta
Mary Gauthier, Filth & Fire
Meat Purveyors, More Songs about Buildings and Cows
Mickey Newbury, Nights When I Am Sane
Miles Davis, Kind of Blue
Nanci Griffith, Other Voices/Other Rooms
Nathan Hamilton, Tuscola
Norah Jones, Come Away With Me
Otis Taylor, Below the Fold
Patty Griffin, Impossible Dream
Ray Wylie Hubbard, Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club
Ronnie Dawson, Live at the Continental Club
Ruthie Foster, Runaway Soul
Sarah Lynn Fisher, Thank You For Your Time
Steve Young, Primal Young
Stevie Ray Vaughan, Live at Carnegie Hall
Terri Hendrix, Places in Between
Terry Allen, Lubbock (On Everything)
Texas Tornados, The Best of Texas Tornados
Tiffany Shea Band, Phoenix
Tish Hinojosa, Homeland
Townes Van Zandt, Live at the Old Quarter, Houston, Texas
various artists, All-Star Bluegrass Celebration
Voices of Change, Voces Americanas
Waylon Jennings, Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line
Willie Nelson: Willie and Family Live

There are so many CDs I want to put on this list; if yours isn’t here, don’t be disappointed or angry. If you bothered to count, there are 61 CDs here. I’d keep one in the CD player all the time.

September 05 email newsletter
No. 016

I stood on the stage one Saturday night at Poor David’s Pub to read my poetry. The opportunity was a gift to me from Tiffany Shea; she said her invitation to open for her was a gift for herself.

I stood on the stage, alone, in front of a hundred or more of her friends, family, and fans, rushing through about 15 minutes of my poetry in about 10 minutes. I read each poem well enough, but didn’t leave enough silence between the poems for the audience to eat my thoughts. I was only vaguely nervous; I’ve been in front of more people. (I enjoyed the reading; it seemed natural for this me. I know how to do it better next time.)

The combination of the dimly light room and the bright stage lights made it impossible to see faces in the audience. Maybe three times, I heard someone in the excellent, quiet audience speak softly and briefly.

Now, here in this computer space, I move into another sort of truth.

From time to time, young women -- impossibly young to love in one way or another, or perhaps impossible to not love -- tell me secrets, tell me about personal, often uncomfortable bits of their lives. I listen eagerly as they speak from a need to tell -- to share, or to pare away a bit of the residue.

Listening -- living -- writing -- is like standing on that stage at Poor David’s. I know the audience is there but too often can’t see it. I hear the occasional murmur of a voice. Sometimes, in life, a small light shines in the dark, showing me the face of whoever’s talking. I hear the voice -- and a small, private part of that person’s story -- and see the face that goes with the voice, like a human star in the dark void -- a fiery star burning with light, so distant that, usually, I see only the beauty and sense the heat.

As I drove home from that show, the after-midnight sky looked heavy with storm clouds. Every few minutes, lightning flashed behind clouds ahead of me, far enough away that I couldn’t hear thunder. Brief flashes of white light lit, behind the clouds, several briefest shades of gray.

My love is the lightning behind the clouds. I drove toward the silent flashes that looked restless over the magical castle where I rest, protected by the tiny brass dragon, on the edge of the deep, ancient forest at the foot of the mythic mountain overlooking the endless sea on the other side.

Soon, I believed, I would begin to hear the thunder -- like voices -- and, if I were willing, to feel the wet touch of the rain falling.

* * * * *

Days later, I turned off the air conditioner so I could listen to thunder move across a dull summer sky. I embraced the humidity, and wondered if rain would fall.

I listened to Deadman’s new CD, Our Eternal Ghosts, which came in the day’s mail with its odd, slow-rockin’ mix of literature, art, and religion, its songs of werewolves and the monsters of Goya, and of Absalom! Absalom! and peace that flows like a river and a time when the music’s not forgotten. Deadman is a very good young band, exploring and expressing.

(One of the impossibly young women who tell me secrets told me self-expression is the most important thing in life. I disagreed, bringing up self-exploration. She said self-exploration is part of self-expression, which made her first statement closer to acceptable.)

* * * * *

A week or so later, in less than a half hour in Deep Ellum, three different men quietly asked me for money. I resent the asking, and always say no. Whatever that makes me.

The third man was in the doorway of a vacant building on Main Street, across from the well-lit place where I went to hear music. Small and thin, he wore black jeans and black t-shirt. I parked my car – the one with a new side window and no radio/cd player because somebody ripped me off nearly a month ago – in a space feet from where the man stood in the doorway taking a cardboard box apart. A couple of hours later, I went out to feed the meter; the man slept on the cardboard in the doorway next to the sidewalk, a streetlight as his stage light.

Rain threatened.

After the show, one family and their friends left two slices of pizza from the five large boxes they brought in with them. I asked them if I could take the slices to the man; the patriarch said, "Sure." I left the two slices in one of the boxes on the concrete within inches of the man’s face as he slept, next to a crisp, folded $1 bill somebody else left earlier. (Dallas has a homeless population of nearly 6,000, with nearly half saying they are homeless because of lost jobs or wages so poor they don’t make enough money to pay for apartments.)

I drove home in the silence of my car, listening to the wheels turn on the highway and wondering if I would -- within the week -- drive to Crawford to touch what was going on. I thought of James McMurtry’s song, "We Can’t Make it Here (anymore)," a blistering look at hard times in America: haunted dreams of a society where rich CEOs pamper their kids while Vietnam vets with cardboard signs sit by the side of the road, where pregnant young women are high on Jesus or hooked on dope, and where jobs disappear.

* * * * *

Crawford, Texas, the day before the expected counter-demonstration, was hot and still. Maybe 75 people at the Peace House at any one time during the day. Maybe 200 under and around the big tent at the main camp . . . I felt a real need to be there for a while, not just because of the war but because, on a human level, there are so many things wrong with this administration . . . I talked with a Methodist preacher I know from Dallas, with a musician from Austin, with three of the Iraq war veterans, and more people . . . a coming together of individuals with a labyrinth of ideas, with peace at the center . . .

* * * * *

Ginger’s favorite toy is a yellow, chewable doughnut-shaped ring about six inches across with a hole in the middle. I throw it high in the air. It bounces at odd angles; she grabs it and runs around the yard. She often flips it from her lower jaw to her upper jaw, and sometimes flips it a few inches into the air to catch it again.

Sometimes she brings it back to me. Sometimes she teases me, stopping about six feet away. As I walk toward her, she tenses; as I reach her, she grabs the ring just ahead of me and runs again. If I talk and gesture with my hands as I walk toward her, once or twice I can put my foot on the ring while she looks at me. I pick it up and throw it again. When she catches it again, after she runs with it, she sits with it between her front legs, often with a paw on top if it.

If I can’t grab it easily, I walk away and she brings it to me to throw again until she gets tired of the whole mess and takes it under the magic castle.

I laugh a lot as we play.