...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

S.P. Poem #36: End

Odd February: extra days, rains

Blast white onto mountains,

And air: clear enough to see.

The world’s warming.

Those who say no have known

Since they were born

The serpent words, the hand

And mouth action.

An oak is dark

On iridescent grass, target

For the yellow path to shade.

No spores yet bloom

In you. You’re free.

S.P. Poem #35: The End of February

The end of February: The odd

Extra day. Rains return for a blast

Of downpour, refreshing the white

On the mountains, and the air,

Briefly, clear enough to see them.

Everyone knows the world’s

Warming, even those who say it’s not

Have known since before they were born.

The serpent provides the words,

The hand and mouth the action.

An oak on a hillside is dull and dark

On the iridescent green of the grass,

Target for the iridescent yellow path

Leading to shade. No spores yet bloom

In your head. You’re free for now.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

S.P. Poem #34: Who Knows?

Who knows why we’re here?

Figuratively speaking, I mean.

She said this with a glass in her hand.

She said this with an absence of malice.

She said this in a strapless dress, before taking my hand and touching it to the polished, wooden table.

It was cool and smooth.

The situation is familiar, as is the phrasing.

It has been lifted from books, movies, and commercials.

It’s been devised for getting something started:

The woman, her glass and my hand, the milled tree, the question.

I am untranslatable the old man said, but

I am easily translated.

I am yawpless and closed-roaded.

The dress, you will have guessed, is black.

The table’s a tree, translated.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


106 min. | Dir. Joe Dante | Rated PG

The plot should be familiar enough: A man visits Chinatown and brings home for his son a cute-beyond-belief creature called a Mogwai, along with three rules for taking care of the little, furry cuddle-bug: Keep it out of sunlight, don’t get it wet, and never, never feed it after midnight. You can guess what happens next. As with most of what Steven Spielberg produced in the ‘80s, mainstream genre-fare—in this case, monsters on the loose in a small town—is given a studio shine. But Joe Dante works in a thread of mild subversion, suggesting, for example, that adorability is just a mask evil wears, and that Christmas is the grimmest of holidays. He also confirms what teenage boys across the land know or suspect: A microwave oven is just the thing for cathartic—and delightfully icky—violence. A funhouse of a movie. [At the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.]

[Published in the print edition of this week's District Weekly.]

Song of the Week 4: Good Cookie

Song info here. You'll need to turn it up, a la Freedom Rock. The "ba da da da ba da da" business is borrowed from "Conduit for Sale!"--which you should listen to right away.

Word of the Day

Anyone who knows me knows why I'd love this short post.

S.P. Poem #33: Suburban Dream

In some of these houses:

Hanky Panky.

In others:


Monday, February 22, 2010

Word of the Day

Saying Goodbye to Very Young Children

S.P. Poem #32: Look!

You will have to live differently.

You will not have a choice. Those

Who took it from you had no choice,

or saw no choice. I had none.

I thought I was on a path. I was.

I didn’t know what. I had a hand

in it, I kept going. I’d say,

I can go this way or that way,

I get where I need to go, I direct

my attention to anywhere I like,

but as you can see, as you can

plainly see, as plainly as you

can see, you can see: you can.

Poem, illustrated

My friend Eric illustrated "Jaws of Life," S.P. Poem #25.

I'm partial to the claws, talons, teeth, and antlers pictures.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

S.P. Poem #31: On “I Want the One I Can’t Have” by the Smiths

Agreed: It’s driving Morrissey mad.

You can hear it in his voice, in every song

Floating his voice. But what

If you can have the one you want,

Even whom you supposedly shouldn’t,

And then you make a choice—

Isn’t this worse?

Isn’t this a curse?

Friday, February 19, 2010

S.P. Poem #30: "it was balmy"

it was balmy it

was lovely and

then it rained and

then it stopped we

took a taxi to

find our friends we

never found them, ne-

ver did there’s not

much, really, you

need to live on a

little water a

little food we

had each other we

had the weather it

wasn’t what you’d
call a hard life it

was a life it came

quite easy we

went to sleep and

we woke up

S.P. Poem #29: Strand

Invisible pollution rigs both darkness and light.

It crosses inversion, and the woman on the beach,

Her pale skirt and boots same shade as the sand

She’s on. Night screens her hair and the stars

The white lands. The pier and blasts of light

On the unseeable horizon leave the surf lonely.

She is holding someone’s hand, his voice, his.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Word of the Day II

Art always has had to do with aura--spiritual aura in the past, individual aura in modern times--and this applies not just to visual art. Religious music, for example, was written to express piety and honor the church. Court music was composed to compliment the king. But in the modern era, secular symphonies arrived. What were they supposed to celebrate? The temperament of the composer. As the pianist Charles Rosen has written, pure instrumental music came to have "its own law, its own reason for existing: it [was] produced by the artist not for a purpose but because he must--out of an 'inner necessity.'" Which is to say that the new musical artist sought to make a living by selling his soul--his individual sensibility.

- Michael Kimmelman

Word of the Day I

And as he is going forth into the way, one having run and having kneeled to him, was questioning him, `Good teacher, what may I do, that life age-enduring I may inherit?'

And Jesus said to him, `Why me dost thou call good? no one [is] good except One -- God.'

- Mark 10.17-18

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Song of the Week 3: Wall of Death

The latest weekly musical post, from a late 2008 ep. More info here.

S.P. Poem [Special]

An older poem, brought out for today:

Ash Wednesday

So begins the action implied by what

is called faith: do something. Don’t just

hold an idea in the mind like a framed

epigraph. What steps there are have been

suggested by others who have gone before:

give something out, give something away,

which is to say, extend and release. Receive.

Why keep, merely, a promise in the mind

like an epitaph, unread but by those, who,

diminishing yearly, visit graves? They read

what’s chiseled there only to think, No.

No. Cremation is the way to go.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

S.P. Poem #28: Two Virgins

1. The virgin at the stream

Is doomed by the nouns

Describing her and her

Location. One of the gods

Will happen upon her,

As anyone could predict,

And will either chase her

Into leafy conversion or

Wrap her in a small, dark

Cloud and, after the job’s

Finished, whisk her, re-

Fashioned into a docile

Ruminant, to a high pasture

Where choice livestock

Graze under the gaze

Of a slow-witted, jealous,

And easily trickable giant.

A half-god will later be

Born to her and become

A hunter torn to bits by

His own hounds. 2. The virgin

In the woods is saved

By who and where she is,

The maniac having already

Dispatched, elaborately,

The goof-off, the doubter,

The investigator, the stud

And his chick (in the sack),

And the perverted, racist,

Cop, who says something

Bigoted before being

Garroted. Our girl,

Though, never runs out

Of luck (she’s got pluck!)

Until the sequel, when,

Pre-credits, she’ll get a

Knock on the door and

A whack to the neck

With a pick or an axe or

An arrow. But first, a close-up

And a gasp of recognition:

A vision has come to her:

She has seen into the future,

And it will come true.

S.P. Poem #27: The Directions

In bowl, mix

Microwave until

Melted. Pour

Over 5 to 6

Paper towels.

Cool in airtight

Heat. Melt oven.

Stir remaining

Ingredients until

Coated. Bake

Every 15 minutes.

Spread towels in.

[A found poem, taken from a recipe on a Rice Chex box, written after TD asked, What's a found poem?--a question he asked after leafing through Tom Phillips' A Humument. T sat with me as I made it, the melted oven bit his favorite.]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

S.P. Poem #26: Young Love

When slinging records then, the thing

Was the segue. You’d put your show

On cassette then listen to it afterward,

Fast-forwarding through the songs to

Where you’d brought the end of one

To the beginning of the next, some-

Times with station i.d.’s in between.

Did the volumes match? Did a full

Ending leap to, while the sound still

Briefly held, the next song, with its

Cold start? What could you use for

Your next show? If you have a need

To use the toilet across the hall, try

“Marquee Moon” and take your time.

Sure you hit pause for that one: It’s

A three-hour show for that C-90 tape.

Friday, February 12, 2010


"O fearful chains around me," Echo said,
And then no more. So she was turned away
To hide her face, her lips, her guilt among the trees,
Even their leaves, to haunt caves of the forest,
To feed her love on melancholy sorrow
Which, sleepless, turned her body to a shade,
First pale and wrinkled, then a sheet of air,
Then bones, which some say turned to thin-worn rocks;
And last her voice remained. Vanished in forest,
Far from her usual walks on hills and valleys,
She's heard by all who call; her voice has life.

- from Book III of The Metamorphoses, trans. Horace Gregory


96 min. | dir. Woody Allen | Rated R

Woody Allen (in his Woody Allen persona) plays a 42-year old comedy writer dating an angelic high school girl he temporarily abandons for someone more age-appropriate, the “pithy but degenerate” Mary, played with loquacious ditziness by Diane Keaton. New York, shot in a light-drenched black-and-white, gilded by Gershwin and framed by the Brooklyn Bridge, is a playground where overly educated people swap romantic partners and then talk about it in museums and parks and the front seats of convertibles touring the city. Jokes are laced with references to neuroses and feminist theory and Kierkegaard, and the wonder of it is that such was the stuff of mainstream comedy in 1979. (In a Judd Apatow movie, circa 2009, a joke centers on a person’s resemblance to the dude who tried to kill Bruce Willis in Die Hard.) Though this story carries a whiff of retroactive creepiness, what with Allen’s well-publicized personal life and all, its conclusion remains both complicated and poignant: Sometimes (usually?) the best thing for you is not getting what you want. (At the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.)

[Published this week in the print edition of The District.]

Thursday, February 11, 2010

S.P. Poem #25: Jaws of Life

I have no problem with the Jaws of Life,

Nor do I have any beef with the Claws

Of Joy, the Talons of Peace, the Fangs

Of Renewal, the Teeth of Reconciliation,

The Stinger of Hope, the Antlers of

Contentment, the Quills of Honest Work

And Prosperity, or the Poisonous Skin

Of Rest, Satiety, and Warmth. Regarding

Each of these things I have no complaint.

Harold and Maude

91 min. | Dir. Hal Ashby | Rated PG

A great triple bill would include The Graduate, this movie, and Rushmore. Each centers on directionless young men in the flower of insolence falling for older women, set to a soundtrack / Greek chorus of iconic ‘60s and ‘70s folk and rock. All three reflect the sensibility of when they were made: The Graduate’s end-titles might as well spell out, “Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30,” and Rushmore’s, “Hey, People, We’re All Getting Older; Let’s Be Cool To Each Other.” This movie, which inspires Austen-like ardor in its fans, is marked by the late-Vietnam era’s obsession with death, but unlike the early-‘70s movies surrounding it, death acts here as a necessary limitation on happiness, something that gives it shape and meaning. And while Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin and Jason Schwartzman’s Max fall for women still wearing the youthful mantle of easy beauty, Bud Cort’s Harold falls for a woman who is old, elderly even, played with brio by Ruth Gordon. Their relationship puts an end to Cort’s elaborately staged (and wonderfully sick) suicide attempts, suggesting that pretending to die is the same as pretending to live, and Maude lives. (Friday, midnight, at The Art Theater.)

[Published this week in the print edition of The District.]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

S.P. Poem #24: Poem Beginning with a Line By Transtromer

“Every problem cries in its own language”

is clear enough to those who read the news.

La Opinion states, “Muy enferma

la reforma sanitaria” - headline

to me of inert, mellifluous syllables,

boxes on the periodic table nice

to know but as unhooked to experience as those

situations the need to read, understand,

and apply the numbers next to the abbreviations

require. The line at the top of this page would be

the same if unshepherded into English, in this case

by Robin Fulton, or, in that other, by the AP

reporter, or translator the reporter hired,

who described a woman running through ruins

shouting, "God, we know you can kill us! We know

you're strongest! You don't need to show us!"

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

S.P. Poem #23: The Lord Hath Called

The Lord hath called and no one answered.

Call in a whisper. Bird on the fence must

be twittering, what the window makes silent.

It convulses. That blue is impossibly blue.

Do you think of rocketing up as far as limits

permit, birdie, or are you eyeing that seed

on the patio below? Careful. Kitty’s near by.

S.P. Poem #22: In the Summer

In the summer, we took our allotted heat

and bathed in it, sitting in the evenings

on Adirondacks we bought from some

Mexicans who made them and drove them around

in a pickup, unfinished, thirty dollars a pop.

We painted one blue and one aqua.

The birds we watched seemed wing-damaged:

we always caught them curving left (their left),

and we worried it was harbinger of some

unforeseeable thing. Their bodies sent them

into tighter and tighter arcs. So it seemed.

I drank my beer, sitting in my aqua chair,

and my mother sat in the blue by me, with her

iced-tea in the tall plastic cup. Those evenings

the sky was broken by darting shapes, curving left,

always as if under an unseen dome, as if that dome

they say that housed the stars that were really gods

directed them with their gaze toward that horizon

and not this one, the one from which the sun

would come, if it came at all.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Song of the Week 2: Everywhere U R

The latest weekly musical post, and another older song. We began recording new material last weekend.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

S.P. Poem #21: Why?

Why re-meat the soufflé?

Why beat the dead hours?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

S.P. Poem #20: Things I Got

Kids! I don’t remember asking my wife,

split in two. I watched it with my own eyes.

I asked all right, for all sorts of things,

low-hanging fruit, milk shakes, a CD of some band,

things I got. Gone or worn out. I can’t even

remember life last week. I remember

The Empire Strikes Back, standing in line,

running around later in the backyard

with the sugar blues working all out.

All was hazy, I didn’t know what it was.

Scared happy. We had a hill above the house

covered in ice plant, little purple flowers,

and my dog running around, I was kicking the air.

The kids are making sounds outside, snorting and

grunting. Animals. I could use something to drink,

coffee maybe. I’m telling you, my son

came out purple and wet and not breathing,

like a prosthetic baby. Years later now a pulse.

It was me, around ten, over the top of the skateboard ramp,

the quarter pipe at the dead end, six or seven feet up,

over the back of it, no helmet and into the wood

pile behind. My neck was broken, I thought,

I’m gonna die walking around gasping.

That’s what it was like. It wasn’t the ice plant hill

with me Han and my dog. It was a little nightmare.

They used a suction cup to pull on his head,

I was awake, and they’re asking again

for something out on the grass. Knock it off.

Action Alert

I'm participating in this. I'll be the reader in the reading preserve Friday from 3 - 4, right before the lovely and talented Aimee Bender. The whole thing's going down at Barnsdall Art Park, in the gallery. I'll bring something to read and some poems to give away. If you're free, please come! We'll hang out, no problem.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

S.P. Poem # 19: Spill the Wind

let the jig luff
and the tiller be loosed
somewhat the course
slackened and each knot
tied firmly

let the course
slacken but remain
aimed work out the mean
and what's not on top
of the water the
boat breaks its easy surface
in welcome cuttings

the coil of line is by
a turn of the rope
with each turn then a
loop and the end pulled
through and through there's no one

waiting for us the ticking
isn’t heard over
the wind rush there is
no rush the mother always
waits over the child always if
conditions are best
hush hush

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Word of the Day

AntonĂ­n Dvorak: Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor

Easy Rider

95 min. | Dir. Dennis Hopper | Rated R

What the hell happened in the 60s? Based on the cinematic evidence (see also Cool Hand Luke and Bonnie and Clyde), being young and free meant being dead. And I don’t mean dead inside, man, but cold, kaput, lights out. As Jack Nicholson, playing a lawyer with a drinking problem, says, “It’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace. ‘Course don’t ever tell anybody that they’re not free ‘cause then they’re gonna get real busy killin’ and maimin’ to prove to you that they are.” That’s a chilling line, all the more so for coming mere months after the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and MLK, and it seems as relevant as ever. Also apparently still relevant: The evil of rednecks, who here—as they so often do—represent society so square it’s crooked. They come after Jack and his pals, the easy (and impossibly handsome) rider Peter Fonda and his sidekick Dennis Hopper, who are financing with drug money their motorcycle trip across the country. The drugs aren’t made to look appealing, which might be due to the heavy use of jump-cutting and Steppenwolf, but the movie is an engrossing, if stylistically dated (and at times dishonest) night out. A key film of the era. (At the Bay Theatre in Seal Beach.)

[To published in the print edition of this week's District.]

S.P. Poem #18: To the Dude Who Used a Nail to Write The Rolling Stones in Wet Cement

Zeuxis painted grapes “the birds pecked at.”

The grapes he painted were real.

He looked at them then used paint to make them

Again. No one takes your inscription

Now dried in the curb for them

Geezers, but if beaked I’d pick

At Mick, or Keith, circa ’68,

With skinny slacks and peacoats.

Your letters in caps conjure them thus

To me. Zeuxis’s trick remains

Pretty rad, like those gashes in the street

They paint for art festivals.

You can see them on the internet.

Don’t fall in! a mom might say

To her toddler as he stands at the edge

Of hell’s portal. His condition

Could be such that she wakes three times

Or so per night to check

his breathing.

So she does and

Says what she says.

Monday, February 1, 2010

S.P. Poem #17: Death Valley


In the mountains, the road flanked by high walls

Of rock turned where a nook in the southern wall

Opened for a picnic table. We stopped for a picnic.

Across the road was a cave housing fallen stones,

A few soda cans, and some phrases in spray paint

I couldn’t read. A plaque said this was a stopover

Before descending into the valley, that there

Was a nearby spring borax miners used

To water their horses. A stand of bamboo

Confirmed it.


Where the bamboo valley was, the road was nearby.

A rock spring, descending, opened in a stopover

For a picnic across a turned table. A fallen few—

The stones, the miners, and a plaque—confirmed this:

Some phrases in, I said it: We.

That cave there mountains a nook of borax, soda

For a picnic. Horses in their housing of paint

Couldn’t stand to read water into high walls.

Flanked by used spray cans, a road before

The southern wall was stopped.

S.P. Poem # 16: Rote

That’s all she wrote, my friend would say,

Every time another chapter ended in our

Adventures together. He’d preface it, usually,

With a little welp: Welp, he’d say, that’s all—

You get the idea. And then he’d exit the truck,

Disappear into the trees and underbrush,

And six days or six months later, drop me

A telegram. It usually came while I took tea

At an outdoor plaza of cobbled stones.

It was delivered by a kid on an Indian

Wearing a leather jacket and aviator glasses.

Steampunks. What is it with those guys?

Anyway, the message was always the same:

Pierre says it’s time. – Maximillian.

And then off I’d be to the rendezvous spot.

You asked for the story. That’s part one.