Thursday, December 27, 2007

Congratulations to Jackson Wheeler, Burning Down the House

After finding out that John was recognized by Writer's Almanac, I received word that old California friend Jackson Wheeler's "How Good Fortune Surprises Us" is today's pick by former Laureate Ted Kooser on today's American Life in Poetry column. It's a pdf, but Jackson's worth downloading any software you might need. Hit the link.

Congratulations to John Guzlowski

I want to break my self-imposed holiday blogging silence to send congrats along to John Guzlowski, my co-collaborator over at Poetry Worth Reading, who's poem "What My Father Believed" was read today by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac. Congratulations to John Guzlowski for what his poems give us every day.
Hit the link at PWR and give it a listen. Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Poetry Worth Reading: New Blog Announcement

John Guzlowski and I are starting a new blog called Poetry Worth Reading. The point is to write about poetry we like. Period. I hope you'll check it out from tome to tome.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Impromptu Oyster Mushroom Noodles and Chicken Recipe

Walking around in the woods behind my house, I found some perfect oyster mushrooms growing on a log across the shallow pond, so I used them in an Asian style noodle recipe I made up on the fly (so measurements are extremely approximate. Just play!) to go with grilled chicken and freshly baked bread.

Grilled Chicken Marinade

Orange juice (about 1/2 cup)
Soy sauce (three or four tablespoons)
Lime juice (one lime)
Red Wine (1/2 cup)
Balsamic or other vinegar (2 tablespoons)
4-8 cloves garlic (I opt for the high end)
One chopped red pepper (jalapeno, thai, or cayenne)
Fresh ground pepper
Honey (two tablespoons)
Ground coriander seeds (a teaspoon)
Cumin (a spinkle)

Marinate the chicken for about 8 hours, then grill, reserving marinade.


1 package chow mein (or other Asian) noodles
Reserved marinade (1 cup or so)
(Add additional soy sauce, orange juice, honey, etc. if chicken has absorbed too much marinade)
Fresh ginger, chopped, (1-2 cm)
Fresh garlic (1-2 cloves)
Fresh grated carrot (one medium)
Three green onions
Celery (1/2 stalk, finely sliced)
Fresh Oyster Mushrooms (1/4-1/2 lb.)
One or two chopped Thai peppers
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Corn starch (2 teaspoons)
Bean Sprouts, angel hair cabbage, almonds, etc. (optional)

Finely chop ginger and add to reserved marinade (or add to marinade to begin with).
Add corn starch to marinade and stir until blended.

Fry cooked, cooled chow mein noodles in 1/4 cup oil (I blended olive, grapeseed, and sesame) with finely chopped white ends of the green onions and garlic until hot.
Add grated carrots and mushrooms and continue tossing until blended.
Stir marinade and add to noodles. Continue tossing.
Top with fresh green onion ends (1 inch pieces) and Thai chiles and optional ingredients.

The mushrooms stand up to frying and provide a nice meat substitute. To make a vegetarian meal, try it with marinated grilled portobellos.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What's the Difference?

My friend George composed a wise and enlightening post for his blog reminding us of the importance of the ideas of George Orwell in these strange and frequently frustrating times, frustrating for those of us who stand up for rational responses during this time of war and divisive politics. One of his trolls lectures on and on about the need to confront "islamofascism" and the "axis of evil" to win the "war on terror," as though these words bear any substantive meaning. These words, in the language of the "conservative" political agenda and their punditariat, are employed to cow us into excusing such recent American moral excesses as torture, the invasion of Iraq, or the surrender of our civil liberties.

I don't need to be lectured about the so-called "war on terror." I've already won it. I refuse to be terrorized. I refuse to give up my rights and freedoms, my moral sense of justice, my principles--my American-ness, if you will--in favor of security. I'm perfectly willing to die for my country in my country, if I have to, to save it. But I want it to be a country that refuses to torture or make up excuses to invade countries, one that doesn't spy on me or listen to my phone calls, one that doesn't make up fake language to scare us into giving up our civil liberties and our ethical principles. I consider this a more authentically conservative stance, since it prefers the Bill of Rights over political vicissitudes, Rovian or otherwise. If Wolf Blitzer asked the troll whether he'd pick national security over civil liberties, he'd answer, like Democratic presidential candidate Chris Dodd, "National security," in a blink. I'd say, Dodd should have said, "What's the difference?" The supposition that one must choose is really to ask the question, "Do you want America to be destroyed from outside or inside?" William Kristol can froth at the mouth all he wants about the suitcase nuke scenario, how it excuses torture, but, really, if the loss of my innocent life, or even, heaven forbid, the loss of an American city, can cause us to toss out our uniquely American ethos to buy a little more security, then this whole America thing is pretty shaky. We can be ethical and secure, even if it makes security more challenging. We possess the strength, the rationality, and the creativity as a nation to meet the challenge, unless we surrender, whether to the outside, or from the inside. What's the difference?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sans turkey, sans ham

Thanksgiving in the deep south marks the beginning of autumn here. Leaves are finally turning gold and brown and beginning to litter lawns and woods. Some nights are chilly; some days are still balmy.

Amy and I spent the holiday with the Mostels near Madison. We looked for mushrooms, lit a bonfire, spied a nearly full moon. Toby mixed Pimm's Cups and made a fabulous seafood, vegetable, and rice dish with a side of spicy aioli. I baked some bread and contributed a zinfandel from my uncle's vineyard (Rosenblum, Richard Sauret vineyard) and we enjoyed the meal with the Mostels and their guests from the northeast, including their charming niece Holly, her beau (another mushroom aficianado), Toby's witty friend, Mark S., and Clay, a local young transplant to Long Island. Albert (Toby's Parrot) prattled and the pigeons pigeoned. It was a warm afternoon and we didn't miss the turkey or stuffing or ham or mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce or gravy or football or discussing the post-Thanksgiving ardors of Christmas shopping. We enjoyed the time with our friends, thought of family, conversed about all manner of things familial, political, and poetical. I left with the gift of a wonderful poem by Aileen's dear friend Heather McHugh and inspired by Aileen's dream. This is my thanks to them for a fine and memorable Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Birthday Wine

Amy and I spent my birthday yesterday quietly, highlighted by a trip to Grand Bay to enjoy the beautiful weather surrounded by the mossy loveliness of the swamp, and Amy gifted me most delightfully with a t-shirt featuring the artwork of our friend, Tobias Mostel. Then a nice dinner of grilled pork tenderloins and mashed potatoes and salad, and later still the continuation of a ritual I've begun with Amy, opening a cellar classic to see how wine can age gracefully. I hope drinking good aged wine will at least carry over into the living spirit, if not the flesh.

Three years ago I opened a 1982 Chateau Latour, still dense and full and alive and complex, with aromas of rich red fruit remaining vibrant behind the cedar and a lingering spiciness laced with smoke. Then next year, joined by wonderful visiting poet Robert Wrigley and dear friend Jessica Fellows two years ago, we opened a chest-thumping 1982 Mouton Rothschild. It wanted out and needed air and it visited us all evening with its hints of mineral and earth over the fruit. Last year it was a very fine 1985 Caymus Special Selection, complex, even opulent, in the nose, but slightly thin on the finish, perhaps opened two or three years past its prime. Still, it opened up toward the end into berries and a touch of the Caymus smoke I love.

Last night I ventured away from cabernet, opened a 1982 Guigal Cote Rotie La Landonne, a single vineyard Rhone syrah I bought before Guigal's fame launched the single vineyard prices into the stratosphere. It's color surprised me first, bright ruby barely fading to berry-brick at the edges. Its aroma was fruity and complex, but didn't quite deliver the bacon smoke I like in great Rhones. Still, the wine branded my tongue with a laser of fruit that went on and on, underscored by a healthy acidity that suggested I could have left it alone for another ten years or so. I have a few good bottles left, so, with luck, I'll see you next year here (old wines don't travel well), and we'll drink what's left. Cheers.

Correction. In an earlier version, I erred when I said, "Last year it was Margaux, an '86, and it was very fine, improving into an excellent wine with some airing, but its famous violet bouquet was understated beneath the complex fruit." I didn't err about the wine, but it wasn't for my birthday. I opened it for an old friend, T. R. Hummer, and a new one, John Holman, when they were here for a conference last fall.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Poetry Reading: Get Your Brain On

Thursday Night, 7:30, Odum Library Auditorium


East Window, Moon

It shadows the bed with a lattice of light,
this moon whose ridge pole sinks beneath its own weight,

rising slowly, laboriously, late.

I'm in a new house, unfamiliar to my feet,
strange to fingers that touch the walls uncertainly

as I walk through the dark of it at night.
Outside, different trees, different stones on the path.

Closer to death I want to know great faith and great doubt.

What no one taught me, that's what I want to remember,
immersed like Blake, his inner eye

a storehouse for the infinite
flashings the fontanel let in, before it knit the bone door shut.

I have always been alone, and I have never been alone.

What I used to call the self is a windowing of light
in the flood plain of the boundless.

Originally Published in Blackbird vol. 5, no. 1.

Margaret Gibson, five-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize, is the author of nine books of poems. Among these, Long Walks in the Afternoon was the Lamont Selection of the Academy of American Poets in 1982, Memories of the Future: The Daybooks of Tina Modotti was co-winner of the Melville Cane Award of the Poetry Society of America in 1986-87, and The Vigil: A Poem in Four Voices was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1993. She will be reading from these, as well as from her most recent collection, One Body, published this year by Louisiana State University Press. Gibson has also been honored with a National Endowment for the Arts Grant and two Pushcart Prizes. She is now professor emeritus at the University of
Connecticut, and a new book, a memoir titled The Prodigal Daughter, is forthcoming from the University of Missouri Press.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Coincidence and Photography: Lost and Found

I took some pictures of a large caterpillar that has cocooned itself over our doorway, a kind of threshold over a threshold, silk above wood and aluminum. I can't find the disk with the photos to post, so instead of blogging about autumn yesterday, I decided to get some work done gathering publication information for the acknowledgments page of my forthcoming chapbook, Other Medicines, coming out in January from Redbone press.

Two of the poems were commissioned (thanks to the efforts of Patsy Hicks) by the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for photographic exhibitions, so I had to look up titles and dates. One of the poems was for an exhibit titled An Eclectic Focus: Photographs from the Vernon Collection. Leonard Vernon and his (then) recently late wife Marjorie had collected thousands of photographs from 1840 to the contemporary era, and Leonard attended the reading on August 28, 1999, to listen to poems written in response to his collection. David Oliveira, Barry Spacks, Chryss Yost, and I read our poetic responses as visitors walked around and viewed the photographs, some with our poems beside them. Leonard Vernon was wonderful at this event, and it was clear how much for him the exhibit and our poems in response connected him with Marjorie. He smiled and spoke so fondly of her and of their collecting. I had the feeling that for him this exhibition was not about the pride of owning rare, often very famous work. The exhibition was about their love, and about their time together finding beauty. She lives on through this collection. They live on.

I was saddened to learn yesterday that Leonard Vernon had died the previous day, October 30th, his threshold to cross, I hope, back to Marjorie.

For me it also brought back warm memories of dear friends, of our poems and our work together, of an event that showed how art makes living possible.

Wall Shadow

—after a photograph by Josef Sudek (from the Vernon Collection)

A sign above the avenue is blank.
A window pulls the dark across its pane.
A single figure leans beneath the sign.
Everyone who should be here is gone.
The cobbles bear our shadows down the lane.
The grey walls grind the coruscating moon.
Something else was written on the sign:
“Everyone who should be here is gone.”
Moonlight pools beneath the figure’s robes.
The avenue keeps busy with its cracks.
The pipes bear out the effluent of hope.
Everyone who should be here is gone.
A window pulls the dark across its pane.
The cobbles bear these shadows down the lane.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Dalai Lama Comes Down to Georgia

I saw no sign of Charlie Daniels or Richard Gere. But I did see the Dalai Lama himself, post W., if from some distance. I saw him once before, almost thirty years ago, when I lived just above the Tibetan Monastary in Berkeley, but this was from my window and he stepped out of the limo and was quickly escorted into the lovely wooden building.

At Emory, the Dalai Lama performed a sangha, and I went with sweet Amy. He entered while monks sang in the traditional throat style, sat, chatted and joked a bit in English, then started the lesson in Tibetan. Another man, seated near him in a business suit, interpreted, and we listened to a lesson on mindfulness and emptiness and achieving the kind of awareness that may lead with much practice to enlightenment.

This blog, however, composed as it is out of the fishnet of words, is firmly grounded in the samsara, so I won't burden you with a spiritual discussion just now. I would just like to put in your mind the image of half a dozen Tibetan monks in their maroon and saffron robes after the event eating pizza at a tavern across from the university. I remember wondering where they keep their wallets. Meanwhile, someone outside protested David Horowitz's Islamophobic events and people drank and watched as Byron Leftwich became the latest Atlanta quarterback/victim and Amy and I and her parents and our friend Anna sat and waited for food, or, in Anna's case, a ride.

We had come down from the mountain where Amy's folks now live, after hiking, moving boulders, killing a scorpion (my scorpio soul winced), buying and drinking fine wine (Buying='03 Sociando Mallet; drinking=Talley Pinot), eating great Thai food at N'ham in Alpharetta, driving and driving in the cooling autumn air and enjoying a fine weekend outside of wet, swampy Valdosta, where the drought has abated a bit of late. Om, mane padme, Om; Oh, dharma, keep on spinning. . .

Friday, October 19, 2007

George's Random Ten and the Dalai Lama

I refer you today to George's weekly random ten + 1 songs for a lesson in ultra-cool music history, because I'm off to see the Dalai Lama at Emory University Sunday morning. (If I have the chance, I'll try to talk him into putting up his own list next week, George. )

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On not blogging

Is it because I have little to say? No. I wrote a blog and buried it, because instead of whining about a local political issue, I decided to make direct contact with someone concerned hoping to effect change more directly. We'll see how that goes. At any rate, I'll be talking about appropriate responses to Virginia Tech at the upcoming AWP Conference in New York, and I'll have more to say later.

I have a few other ideas, fits and starts of them, but I need some pictures for a couple of them.

Local band Ninja Gun is having success getting songs on Friday Night Lights. I'd give them some kudos, but I hate that word. So, ya'll will have to accept my mere congratulations.

Oh, and vote for Night Driving in Small Towns, our local Rolling Stone-approved indie/blugrass band selected as a finalist in zigzaglive's contest. Hit the "Vote for Bands" button and vote for their song "Cast Your Love Around." Do it now. Both of you.

Friday, October 5, 2007

October Already

and the Cubs are blowing it again and I can't really care too much for baseball as I used to when the Dodger's pitched and ran and I pretended to be Don Sutton or Claude Osteen or Bill Singer or Jim Brewer in the ninth twisting screwballs into Joe Ferguson's glove, or Davey Lopes stealing second or the Penguin (Ron Cey) or Steve Garvey hitting one out or Bill Buckner making the play at first base (as he did with great regularity before he became unfairly stigmatized for the one cursed play with the Red Sox). Manny Mota was the greatest pinch hitter ever (remember that old guy stealing home? Might be my favorite baseball moment), and Walt Alston managed the team like an old law professor waiting for the right answer. It was Vin Scully's fault, really, because I'd rather listen to the game on the radio than watch it, though I watched plenty, watched Al Downing give up an unasterisked 715 to Hank Aaron and was happy for them both, watched Steve Yeager stabbed by a broken bat and it scared me and scarred him.

But now the Dodgers have collapsed and the ex-Dodgers (Mets) even more gloriously and I don't know their names anymore, haven't since a few years after Kirk Gibson hit that one-legged homer out. I don't know why. Steroids? Selig? Players changing teams so often it's hard to feel the word "team" after baseball anymore? All of it? At any rate, you'll likely have to watch the world series without me. Mr. October's cameoing in bad movies and the game has lost any sense of grace.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

My Beautiful Chanterelle: Art Deux

Photo by sensesworking

The good news: this was delicious tossed with pasta, butter, and garlic. I found this perfect chanterelle within walking distance of my house, across the street from a park where I'd found lesser examples of this fungus. It was just after a light rain and it fairly glowed, orange-peel bright and smelling typically fruity.

The bad news: I returned three days later to see how the smaller eruptions were doing, only to find that a construction company had untreed part of the property and laid it upon the holy ground, perhaps removing the rhizomal foundation the mushrooms need to survive.

Note: reports on mushrooms that I found and/or cooked represent my personal experiences, and in no way should be taken as recommendations for readers. This is not a guidebook. Eat wild mushrooms at your peril.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Art and Politics: "The Industrial Complex"

The Faculty Art opening last Monday featured many fine works by VSU faculty. The following piece by Michael Schmidt, one of my first new friends here, was for me the most striking piece.

Photo by Michael Schmidt (click photos for full size)

Oil in, bullets out? Bullets in, oil out? It depends on where you stand, how you read--left to right (English, western) or right to left (Arabic, Hebrew). Michael Schmidt's work features a melange of styles and materials, as he indicates on his web site, but the two most interesting are used motor oil and cast 50 caliber bullets. The oil is from all of us and represents our rapacious appetite. The bullets are molded from an actual spent round provided by a young soldier who will soon leave for Iraq again, if he hasn't reported already. (We hope he will return soon and safe, hopefully accompanied by most or all of our troops.)

Photo by Michael Schmidt

The bullets enter or leave from a vaginal, gothic-cathedral-style door that pierces the blue line, penetrates some watermark, exceeds a reasonable limit. Their whiteness violates the meaning of the word purity.

The oil in porcelain "styrofoam" cups drinks in your eye. It shines back, accusing. It's not subtle, not meant to be. It is, however, a beautiful sculpture. The cathedral door is too big, but barely large enough, as though the cups were once smaller, the factory walls wide and high enough. Everything now is squeezed, soon to be crushed perhaps. I also imagine bullets and oil both entering, filling the factory with the blood we refuse to see boiling down into our want for more and more, "honoring" our spirit of rapacity, of privilege, soon to go up in smoke.

Photo by Andrew Nuse

Mike also produces a lot of functionals, many embellished with old logos from oil and gas companies, many no longer in existence. They function as art. I call them post-oil retro pieces, because they already feel quaint and nostalgic, but they also suggest an apocalypse, like kitsch from the future come back to warn us that our thirst will make deserts everywhere, that the age of oil was some dream become myth. They make us remember the future.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Crying Game, Porcini style

Photo by Jamie Harmon/

At twilight on the way to the Faculty Art Opening Monday evening, I spotted these two large fungi under some old longleaf pines. "Porcini," I said to myself, salivating, planning meals in my head, "Big ones!" I picked them quickly and headed off with my bounty, catching odd glances from students who must have thought I'd lost my mind (or that I'd hoped these might help me do so). I bore them proudly, however, arriving at the opening, entertaining numerous glances and, from friends, questions about what the hell I held and what the hell was I going to do with them. I patiently explained that these were porcini, worth about $40 a pound on the fresh market, and that I was going to eat them. They asked whether I might poison myself, and I explained that I knew which were poison, which weren't, and I wouldn't risk my life for a taste of amanita phalloides, the death cap, or any other liver killers. I enjoyed the art (more about that later, I'm awaiting another photo), talking to friends, chatting with my students afterward, and then taking these home for verification and an immediate place on top of my pizza. I Berenstain Beared these babies (If they look like porcini, if the smell like porcini . . . ). However, I noticed a certain amount of staining and the pore tubes, upon closer inspection under a lamp, were browner than normal. I decided to give it the definitive test--the taste test--so I sliced the smaller of the two up and sauteed a sliver in butter. It wasn't bitter, which was good, but it wasn't porcini, either. It was a Tylopilus, a boletus edulis lookalike. I put a little on my pizza anyway, and while it didn't detract, it didn't add much flavor and its texture was a bit grainy. No, this wasn't the choice dish I had expected, and I ended up discarding the rest of this bland date.

Note: reports on mushrooms that I found and/or cooked represent my personal experiences, and in no way should be taken as recommendations for readers. This is not a guidebook. Eat wild mushrooms at your peril.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Early Halloween Photo

A reason to look up once in awhile while foraging for mushrooms. This cluster of argiopes stretched their webs over a cluster of mushrooms in the lot beside my house, and I nearly walked into all of them. (I'm learning to appreciate the dangers of hunting and gathering.) Their prey is a rhinoceros beetle, mine, boletus edulis. We resolved the issue peacefully.

Note: reports on mushrooms that I found and/or cooked represent my personal experiences, and in no way should be taken as recommendations for readers. This is not a guidebook. Eat wild mushrooms at your peril.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Yes, We Have No B. Ananas

I found this warty mushroom growing at the base of a longleaf pine on the VSU campus. It's boletellus ananas, an odd bolete due to the presence of a veil remnant on its warty red cap, but it's a little dried out so the cap has dulled.

This shows the classic blue staining qualities that many boletes possess. Just behind them, drying porcinis, and just behind that, the base of a glass of cab and a sliver of my swiss army knife.

Last week I went to the Mostel estate and picked mushrooms with Aileen and Jane Whitehead (an Etruscan scholar). Most weren't edible, though one bolete was tasty sauteed in butter. We found two deadly destroying angels, too, but the highlight was a mushroom giant, the macrocybe titans, growing near their house (photo by the Mostels). These can grow to enormous proportions (larger than two feet tall) in Central America and Mexico, but in North Florida they tend to stop at dinner plate size. They are supposedly edible, but one commentator described their cooking smell as something akin to "dirty laundry," so we left it to sporulate.

Note: reports on mushrooms that I found and/or cooked represent my personal experiences, and in no way should be taken as recommendations for readers. This is not a guidebook. Eat wild mushrooms at your peril.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Reduxing the Zeitgeist

Movies, even mediocre ones, are being remade with greater frequency as our culture demands "new" entertainment without new ideas. We're no different politically.

As Iran unconscionably replaces Iraq in our warspeak, the nation prepares to replace a Bush with a Clinton again. I believe this will be a national mistake, not because she isn't qualified, but because she will merely employ the same old executive ideas (and their expert spin-sters) we've suffered through for a generation. She's essentially a Reagan Democrat, recently a Jesus-freak lite, all for big money and lobbying and executive power and free market solutions. She galvanizes the opposition because she is too like them for their own power-loving comfort.

Certainly she will mollify some on the left with standard centrist positions, but she'll take what she can get from W's excesses. She'll come back 50 steps from his 100 steps into crazy and consolidate power in the executive branch. She'll do better than W, but not necessarily different when it comes to power. She'll crony and spin. Support for the third Bush will crystallize around what will become hatred of all things Hillary, as the conservative hounds will bay mercilessly after the old Clinton scent. As much as I'd love voting for a woman to be president, I believe a vote for Hillary in '08 will result in President Jeb in '12. I hope I'm wrong.

We need new ideas, not yet another Poseidon Adventure.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

An Itch to Scratch: Unintelligent Design, or Reducible Stupidity

Balls, the very testicle--that haphazard refugee from the body and its sterilizing heat--offer proof of the opposite of intelligent design.

This shifty pair, rather, proves hasty design:

trailer-park-engineer, duct-tape-spliced-extension-cord, tinfoil-rabbit-ear "entertainment system" design;

neophyte-deity-pulling-an-all-nighter-after-bingeing-all-weekend, hoping-to-pull-a-C- design.

What god except a punishing trickster would've--rather than ensconce the family jewels in, say, an irreducibly complex velvet-lined cooling system secure deep in an abdominal haven--hung these all-important procreative nuggets in a handy sack, providing easy, painful, and potentially emasculating access to dangers as varied as invading hordes, royals who like their singers permanently falsettoed, angry ex-lovers, and careless leg-crossers?

Testicles--those perfunctory dangling shape-shifting afterthoughts fashioned from leftover skin and wires exposed to all manner of nauseating abuses--are prime evidence of theologically shoddy design. I suppose Dr. Behe might say the Prime Mover--the Causus Ballus, if you will--was too busy fashioning the flagellum for bacteria to spend time on a proper house for our homunculi. So, Dr. Behe, I say nuts to your intelligent design, ballocks to your irreducible complexity.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Global warming feels like Fresno

Perhaps if global warming were described in this way, people would pay more attention to it.

Meanwhile, Dean begins perhaps the latest fall onslaught as it starts winding up in the mid-Atlantic. Will it be Nolan Ryan in his prime, or a Hoyt Wilhelm knuckler that floats around and dies at the plate? At any rate, I'll be checking the forecast, watching the satellite, wondering, worrying, thinking about the weird arcing blue light, the hum of power lines crashing, blowing out the transformers, watching the trees all night.

In California, we worried about earthquakes tacitly, distantly. Your disaster or relief comes instantly. Hurricanes come in like political campaigns, with a lot of noise and bluster, polls and forecasts, this sick anticipation and even disappointment should it fizzle, pure terror if it comes full strength. Global warming feels like Fresno. Global warming feels like junior high, bully on the corner you have to pass to get home.

Thursday, August 9, 2007


Not much to post about lately. The beginning of school is upon us here and every day is devoted to meetings. We're all wonderful. We're going to have to tighten our belts. The parking situation is a mess. Correcting the parking situation will be a mess. We have to do more with less. Growth. Attrition. Retention. Accountability, accountability, accountability, and more (fake) accountability. The missionstatementization of higher education is rampant and sitting in meetings on metrics and efficiency and infrastructure occur with increasing frequency. It's not that these things are all inherently negative or useless. Some of those things lead to positives: cool new buildings, a giant Starbucks, a bigger bookstore. It's just that what seems to get lost in all this kind of consideration is our students. Our students as individuals. That will, I hope, change Monday. School will start. They'll be looking at me wondering what the hell we're going to do all semester. And that's when it will finally be real again.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

For All Those Lost

Fresno High School's class of 1977 will hold its 30th reunion this Saturday Night in Fresno, California. Circumstances don't permit me to attend, but I thought about going, so I looked up info on the alumni web site, perused a few pictures, read names I hadn't thought of all these years trying to raise a family, start a career, move to Salt Lake, Santa Barbara, finally the Southeast.

I'm thinking of Jerry Haydostian right now because his name isn't listed among the dead with old friends Kurt Pempek and Craig Jue. He isn't the only one missing, but he was as much a member of our class as anyone else. He moved around the corner from my parents' stucco tract home on Lafayette when we were still in elementary school. I knew him a little from the neighborhood, stingray bikes in summer, his shock of blond hair, his intelligence already clear in the creative ways he approached things, the way he talked, the way he looked at things. We became better friends in Jr. High-- Cooper with its low roofs, caves for locker rooms, Algebra with Shegeby, wood shop with Peterson ('rrrrrRRRR-ight! cut the horseplay!), English with Ms. Wofford. He was one of the smart kids. At FHS we joined Senate together along with Jim Bane and Paul Luby and Danny Morgigno, and we took German and his hair grew longer, but he was still that smart, friendly kid. He always made you laugh with his wry sense of humor and easygoing personality.

He also didn't let on too much about what was going on in his head, his confusions. He didn't quite fit in, not completely, not in Senate, he wasn't an athlete, and he didn't like to showboat. We all talked about girls, but I don't remember a particular girlfriend. We also once talked about a teacher we shared, a teacher who liked to have students over to his house, our German teacher, Mr. Roy, who told stories and made you feel intelligent if he was interested in you, and it was hard to imagine him as anything other than a fat old kraut, but he had illicit designs on the young men he invited to his house, and both Jerry and I were unfortunately objects of his predilection for young men. My own story is documented in a poem I published years ago, only remarkable for its sad banality. Jerry's story remains implied in the questions he asked me that day. He nodded a lot. He didn't say a lot. He didn't need to. Back then, confused as we would have been even in the healthiest of environments, the added confusion of Andre Roy's affections doesn't necessarily explain anything, but it added an unnecessary burden. Maybe more than most, though, Jerry was one of our classmates, and this is for you, Jerry.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Mushroom Marathon

The rains continue, which means fungi will be sprouting for the next month. I've already dried some porcini and last night I put some on a pizza. The nuttiness complements the cheese nicely, and makes a fine, firm meat substitute (though I had mine with some uncured pepperoni). I put a small bicolor bolete (red cap, yellow tubes) on my lunch burrito. You could almost live here on what people kick over and stomp.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Porcini Weather

"Porcini Weather" is the title of a poem I've been working on and it's been raining and warm and muggy lately, so when I walked gingerly around the empty lot next door stretching my bad back after tweaking it playing basketball, I was pleased to see peaking through the the weeds and tall grass several chestnut-suede buttons of the delicious and nutritious boletus edulis, more commonly known as porcini in the Italian, or ceps in France, or King Bolete in English. I picked three yesterday and four today, about a third of what I found growing. Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is to leave a few alone to to their work so they keep coming back.

They're terrific in soups and sauces, pasta and risotto, or just sauted in butter, and I'm looking forward to finding something delicious to do with them, something that will accompany the chickens I smoked yesterday. Last night I contributed to a dinner at a colleague's house by stir frying a few buttons with saffron rice, butter, garlic, and shallot. Simple and flavorful. Tonight, who knows? But these four beauties will find a place on our plates.

Speaking of smoked chickens, Amy "drew" a picture to show how it's done 'round these parts and how it's spelled:

Update: Harvested half a dozen more (12-16 oz), plus an Agaricus Campestris. Smoked Chicken and porcini rigatoni alfredo last night. Risotto con porcini tonight. Omelets tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Last Day of Summer School Classes


Now go download music at Owl and Bear: Wilco, Shins, Daniel Johnston, Uncle Tupelo up now, plus a nice podcast.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mmmmm, Chanterelles, Boletes from the Hostel in the Forest

Amy briefly describes that ecotopia, the Hostel in the Forest, in her blog, and provides a link. We had a wonderful weekend there skinnydipping in the lake, watching the summer thunderstorm from the safety of our treehouse, dodging copious chickens, and avoiding the plentiful argiope spiders that hung between the branches. I spent much time foraging for mushrooms that I hoped would bless my table, and recent rains had brought out fungus in great numbers, feeding my hopes of finding mycological treasures, especially chanterelles. The most dramatic find was a troop of amanita muscaria v. alba, the white version of the soma mushroom said to have shamanic hallucinatory properties, though it's usually categorized as poisonous. I picked a large one and gave the little Buddha statue in the tree house a rather dramatic umbrella. I also gathered a number of boletes, sauteing an all white button in butter in the Hostel's communal kitchen, but its extreme bitterness disappointed, meaning I was likely dealing with some kind of Tylopilus. Another violet/black with white spore tubes also proved to be bitter, while a spongy pink-capped, yellow spore-tubed variety I began slicing had too many maggot holes to bother with. I soon gave up, leaving the remaining specimens in the cooler for further study at home.

We left Sunday afternoon, Amy to her friend Dottie's in King's Bay, as she was flying out of Jacksonville to NY to attend a retreat, and me with Dottie's boyfriend Thad, who plays lead guitar for local country punk heroes Ninja Gun, currently hard at work on their second album. On the way out, I spotted a spray of chanterelles along the ditchbank. Thad stopped and I gleefully gathered young, tender chanterelles from two locations just before the gate, and we were on our way, listening to Ween, Giraffes, Soft Boys, and GBV all the way home.

On Monday I decided to use the chanterelles and I kept it simple: linguine in butter with chopped garlic, chaterelles, sea salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. Delicious. The next night, I examined the boletes, tested one, and found it to be delightful, perhaps a butter bolete. At any rate, I sauted it to accompany a ribeye steak and the leftover chanterelle linguine. Mushroom mission accomplished.

Note: reports on mushrooms that I found and/or cooked represent my personal experiences, and in no way should be taken as recommendations for readers. This is not a guidebook. Eat wild mushrooms at your peril.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

By the Roadside, Night Driving in Small Towns

By the Roadside, the debut album from Night Driving in Small Towns, deftly blends classic folk country sounds with a contemporary vocal style that'll have you settin' on the front porch, tappin' your barefoot toes, sippin' sweet iced tea. The themes are love-gone-wrong-don't leave-me-now-I'm-better-off-without-you country/folk familiar, but the arrangements are understated, flavored with bluegrass instead of twang to set off Andrea Roger's dulcet contemporary vocals.

"Whiskey" starts it off with an empty bottle and an empty heart, but its light and still drunk and the looming hangover isn't hurtin' yet as uplifting rhythms swirl around the classic heartbreak epiphany, "The only one you love is you." "Close Encounters" put them in Rolling Stone's top 25 unsigned Myspace bands, and it anchors the album with Colby Wright's upbeat mandolin underpinning Andrea Rogers' honeysweet voice. "Close encounters of the first kind,/ Brief encounters of the close kind/And then you run away" cleverly summarizes those brief relationships she's sick of; she wants this one to stay. "Little White Dove"'s folk gospel yodeling optimism may just save Christianity from Christians, since it cheerfully steers away from the ideological judgmental gloom that seems to pervade much of the faith these days: "Oh, I know Jesus saves,/ so bring on the rain,/ I can build a boat/ and I can float away." It truly hearkens back to a time when people used words like "hearken," when folks went to church to hear about the spirit and sing uplifting songs and live and let live. It instantly belongs in every church coffee house hymnal and would feel right at home on Prairie Home Companion (Somebody call Mr. Keillor).

If the first half of the album is about innocence and its loss, the second half completes the Blakean circle in its explorations of experience. "'Cast Your Love Around" is about a lover who does and "Infidelity" wryly explores the perfect relationship: "The only one for me/Is infidelity/‘Cause I know he’ll be/Faithful to me." The album concludes with "Waking Up," slower, wiser, in a lower register, its images clear and deft: "A fallen leaf/Fluttered by my windshield today/And I mapped out its decline/Likened it to mine." But this, the saddest, slowest song on the cd, ends in cautious optimism--"Your hands just touch me/And I feel OK/Your voice just whispers/Give it one more day"--finishing this fine first effort with a healthy dose of mature realism. South Georgia songwriters Rogers and Wright (mandolin, guitar) are backed up admirably by Sage Cady (bassist), Daniel Gonzalez (guitars), and Tyler Shores (drums, harmonica). All in all, this is a terrific first cd.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This and That

Owl and Bear is currently posting live shows from Mark Lanegan, Jeff Tweedy, Low, Built to Spill (a little quiet, but includes a sweet cover of Eno's Third Uncle"), and Tortoise.

My friends Night Driving in Small Towns have put out their first CD, By the Roadside, which I'll review here soon. Influences include Rilo Kiley (and Jenny Lewis) and Gillian Welch.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Interdependence Day

Tomorrow my friends Mike and Nancy shall be wed in St. Augustine. Mike and I came to Valdosta at the same time, two artists (he works with clay; I work with words) moving cross country to teach at this quiet, regional university with modest resources and a low profile. We met auspiciously at the cookie table during orientation, reached for the same macaroon, glances all Lady and Trampish , and we began a conversation and a friendship that continue. I moved out alone, leaving behind my California, my friends, and most of all, my son, who couldn't see himself in South Georgia. This Wisconsin kid came with Nancy, his model-lovely vivacious girlfriend from Cleveland who didn't know what she wanted to do here. Moving here was a huge change for her, but she took a chance on love, an almost cheesy chance, but given the Wisconsin factor, perfect. She found her calling in real estate, and found her heart with Mr. Schmidt. Congratulations.

This toast is for you both, a magnificent pinot for you, Mike, and a silky chardonnay for you, Nancy. May the fireworks soar higher and shine a little more brightly for your happiness tomorrow.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Cool stuff elsewhere

The Owl and Bear is currently posting live show recordings from Bonnaroo (four sets), Wilco, and Uncle Tupelo. They're flac files, so you might have to modify your WMP to listen.

John Guzlowski is famous for being a new blogger at New Works Review.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bong Hits for Jesus: SCOTUS OKs slide toward Fascism

The US Supreme court this week ruled against the free speech rights of the high school student who unfurled a banner that said Bong Hits for Jesus during the Olympic Torch run in 2002. They argued that, since his school was there, he was subject to school rules and requisite speech limitations. One can quibble about the rights of students on field trips, etc., but he had never attended school that day, and this is crucial. The majority was so intent on supporting the administrative authority of the principal to control speech, they completely overlooked the in loco parentis issue, which affords schools certain rights and responsibilities usually only afforded to parents or legal guardians.

The effect of this ruling is to raise the in loco parentis rights of schools over the natural rights of parents, since the student was not at the rally in his capacity as a student, but rather as the independent minor child of his parents. As of Monday, your children belong more to the state and less to you than they did before the ruling.

Taken to its logical extreme, the schools now can monitor any private student behavior and override parental rights in order to preserve the school's authority.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Owl and The Bear

Just want to point you to this site, link to the left, that republished my narrative with photos. Lots of cool stuff there.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Califone in DC, Bitter Tears and Cardinal Sins

We drove to D.C. on a whim, twelve hours each way on 95, for Califone 's show at the Rock and Roll Hotel. Highway barbecue, coffee, a night in South Carolina where "Deluxe" still describes cheap motels. Slither on HBO. North to President Inn ('s not included) on New York Avenue near the arboretum. Capital Dome: I bare my ass to it in the window, more than they deserve, and Amy and I head out. The neighborhood is depressed, restaurants all closed or takeout Chinese or ff chain. We eat shrimp lo mein and fried rice and walk to the club.

Mannequins wearing animal skulls menace the upstairs bar, and the bartender, bright red hair, big slash of candy-red lips and green eyes and what'll you have, a pretty apocalypse. Guinness, red wine. We sip and wait for the show. Rooms of old velvet furniture, obligatory rock posters. The drinking, white, young college-age elite begin to gather along with the music nerds, order cocktails. We talk to Joe downstairs, setting up the merch, about solo projects, Jim's new film/music project, Interkosmos, and future tours, records, Yoko Ono at the Pitchfork Festival, Slint's Spiderland. Head back up for another beer and watch Jim play pool with Amy, who will guest at cello for the evening. These United States finally starts the show. Decent Americana, but we head out, where Tim is relaxing, smoking. We catch up. The band's future, other projects, etc. We talk about school, heat, humidity. Amy bums a cigarette from Tim, rolls it. A lost traveler asks for cab fare, and we give her what we can. Tim blesses her with water for dopamine, hope for light. She is big-eyed and missing and kind in that desperate way. She asks us to pray for her upcoming move. This is mine. Tim shows us pictures of his beautiful son. I talk about my two. Ben comes up, asks Tim something, leaves. Then Tim excuses himself to get ready for their set.

We hang out a little longer outside, but go in to hear Bitter Tears. Hammer-subtle irony. They're boisterous, musically random and literate and funny. (I recall Oingo Boingo in costumes marching and blaring up Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley for some reason, but this is darker.) Their instruments are horns, upright bass, drums, guitar, and Weimar irreverence mixed with country prank. They wear prom dresses or bunny ears and lipstick like the bartenders', but smeared and sweaty. The crowd laughs and cheers, but avoids, otherwise, interaction. Too bad.

Finally, Califone opens with "Golden Ass," while the defrocked Bitter Tears horn section ignites around the fuse of guitars and percussion, the pulsing vocals. After the song, Tim introduces their guests; he says he went to seminary school with them in Chicago, and he reminisces in some kind of hieratic code, a little jokey, a little edgy. That edge breaks the beginning of "Slow Right Hand" and they restart it after a few bars and it breaks out over our heads, falls in like orioles into bushes when it rains. The long flat room is a matchbox and it squeezes the music; the songs want to spread out more. This isn't a set list. I don't remember the order. I remember trying to find a place to hear better, "Orchids" with horns, "Michigan Girl" with Amy on cello, "The Eye You Lost in the Crusades." Finally I settle next to the speaker, and the room stays out of the way and the pain in my ear is maraschino masochism. "Pink and Sour" with its '40s big band harem themes begins and the floor erupts in dancing. This is the one the girls were waiting for, this spiked Shirley Temple, cologne at the nape. The song concludes and the dancers evaporate. I guess this is the one from the local college radio list, their evening apparently over. Califone's wasn't. Tim snaps a guitar string, lays it down. They reset. He comes out of the next song squeezing his head, first side and side, then hair and chin. He starts speaking about seminary school again, some Cardinal or priest, something in the woods, body of a young boy, hints of things we aren't supposed to see or know like some weird Franklin scandal action. They're almost Pentecostal now and everyone's nervous. Ben and Joe sit and look down at their skins and bones, Jim looks on concerned. Tim moves close to Alan and holds his face, starts talking about the priest, he's here in D.C. somewhere and they're failed priests and that body in the woods and they should turn him in. Alan looks like the drama mask that makes you think of Medea ripping at her breast. Real babydoll tears in Alan's eyes and the crowd on edge and time is nearly up, so Tim steps away and announces the last song. "Horoscope Amputation Honey" begins slow, keyboards, twang, a little noise, builds, breaks out into long legs of improvisation, twenty minutes or so. Alan joins in and more horns and they jam 20 minutes and end finally into a short song that's a prayer. And that's it. No encore. No one explains. The bar shuts down, kicks us out or upstairs after a few minutes.

Outside later, we say our farewells to Tim and Jim and Ben and Joe and it's warm. Some storm has passed. We walk into the DC morning. I owe Tim a whiskey.

Meme a whippa, meme a whippa (catching up)

I don't do these, ordinarily, extraordinarily, or otherwise, since by the time they get to me, anyone I'd tag is tagged, but since Amy asked, I have to (though I'll cheat by posting this to my myspace friends instead of tagging 8 people specifically.)

1. I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
2. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. (You’re not the boss of me!)
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

1. I can make my knuckle dance.

2. I enjoy low degrees of separation from many sports and entertainment figures because I've played pickup basketball with Les Connor (Oregon star, respected journeyman pro--long ago, in Berkeley), Joe Rose (Cal and Dolphins tight end), Tim McDonald (49ers d-back in Fresno--his elbow ruined my fine falsetto), and Rob Lowe.

3. Cleaning my office is considered "optional."

4. I used to watch scary movies as a child from behind the sea foam green Naugahyde footstool.

5. The most beautiful places I've been are in Nepal, Ireland, Utah, and Santa Barbara.

6. I used to be jealous of Kathy Helm at Woodrow Wilson Elementary because she could color in the lines and I could only dress up in women's clothing.

7. One day I will have to surrender my dream of making my 57 Benz run again.

8. I drink red wine with fish.

So, myspace friends and John G., go.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

God's eyes are closed, just like yours: Califone in DC.

Off to DC to see Califone, as close as they'll get to the deep south on this tour. Unlike some of the bands I've enjoyed over the years, Califone has maintained a rare level of aesthetic integrity and intelligence. I first heard "Dime Fangs" from an early ep while ensconced in my cubical atop QAD's hill in Summerland, where I wrote manufacturing software text with earphones on, where I went out to the parking lot with Mike Thorne on breaks to chat and sip coffee and look for dolphins leaping in the oily Pacific.

Their songs hit me in two opposing registers. So familiar. So strange. Early on, explaining it to people, I oversimplified it by calling it avant bluegrass. The two registers spiral around a palpable but invisible axis anchoring everything. Tim's hand-rolled voice and Jim's slide guitar and banjo power chords and Joe's tight snares and Ben's percussive inventions lull you like a summer afternoon at a family reunion in the park where they filmed Carnival of Souls. Lines drawn sharp like a cartoon memory (banjos, fiddles), but the ghosts of interference shadow everything, tense vivid dreams and unreconciled longings, accumulations of personal history, intimacy and terror, and once in awhile release in a pure rock burst, like a sigh's.

I briefly reviewed Roots and Crowns on Amazon, and it still feels pretty good:

If Joseph Cornell's boxes could sing they'd sound like this, narratives blown like an old transmission, parts clinking along the pavement, underwires pinging and cupping lasciviously, all sweet blues and sweeter decay. If you're familiar, Califone improves on their already remarkable range, lacing horns into the loops, pulling a gem out of Psychic TV's catalog with "The Orchids." If you're not familiar, it helps if you like the slow surprise of a junk drawer opening, scraps of paper scrawled in pencil, that bolt you need, that tiny photo of someone you used to know. The lyrics are poems, the songs sublime.


Friday, June 1, 2007

Aesthetically Disturbing

Went into our town's only Starbucks Wednesday (They must have heard me bragging once that I thought we were possibly the largest city in America without one), and on their music shelf I see Wilco's Sky Blue Sky in between albums by Maroon 5 and Michael Buble'. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad for Jeff and co.'s financial success, but this just looked wrong.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Valdosta Beaver Hunt

Sorry, trawlers for porn, this post features many photos, but not of the Larry Flynt variety. We're looking for the real thing.

This is my house from the woods on my property, as I move toward the city-owned green belt through town. Today, woodpeckers knock and rattle dead and dying trees for bugs.

Looking into the woods from the path behind my house.

In these woods, where smoke from burning swamps seems less oppressive, water is rising into once dry areas despite the long drought. Maybe the ground is sinking or maybe rain from a tiny cloud falls on a sad cartoon man lost in the woods. Small trees had been cut down, wood chips flecking ground. I was enraged, wondering who could be wandering through the slim green slash through town by two-mile creek cutting down trees. Toothmarks grace some of the stumps, so I perform some environmental arithmetic. Beavers.


I'd heard they were around, but this locale seemed improbably urban--good for the occasional raccoon, hawk, opossum, or pilieated woodpecker, but beavers? Around the margin of the expanding pond, two dams that confirmed recent activity.

Dam 1

Dam 2 (Harder to see, but the dam crosses the A about 2/3 of the way down)

Finally, I discovered evidence of the actual creatures.

The one- to two-feet deep pond, not deep enough for a lodge, sits above the deeper two-mile branch. Perhaps young beavers are exploring, or perhaps they're just creating an area friendly for feeding off the creek. Or perhaps they've been displaced due to the work on the emptied Mill Pond, into which the creek drains. I'll keep watching.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Graduating Ian, pt. 3

Graduation eve at Lehigh could have provided several plot lines for one of those disfunctional family movies, with the requisite minor dramas, hurt feelings, impositions, etc., and I won't go into it because it's boring. What wasn't was hanging out with Ian and Elizabeth and playing dollar-a-game pool and drinking Yuengling (5 bucks!) by the pitcher at a local pub, or eating more Indian food before that (not bad, but not enough spicy heat). I'll just say that we survived dinner with my former in-laws after my ex-wife opted out. It's weird dining with former in-laws, but it was, in fact, lovely. The hotel restaurant was loud, and, upstairs, a prom was going on while a polished jazz quartet forged ahead with some jazz standards next to our table, all of which added to the surrealism. Somehow it all worked out.

Graduation the next day was long, but the weather was outstanding, the stadium surrounded by green forested hills, the occasional raptor soaring between mountaintops and clouds. Three and a half hours to call out all the names and listen to the speeches and watch the green and blue and hide from the sun when I could. I've been to so many graduations it was all pretty ho-hum until Ian's name was called out and we all cheered and whistled. He couldn't hear us, of course, but he was happy with his friends and to have us there, and that made it all worth while. After everyone else left, Amy and I attended an afterparty briefly at a friend's house. Nice friends, banjo music, and good outdoor fare. After that it was decompression and a long day journey home. We stopped in Philly for a quick bistro lunch of chicken sandwiches and hit Indigo gallery on 3rd street, where Amy bought some gemstones and I bought a Mexican ceramic cerveza delivery truck with two skeletons.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Graduating Ian, pt. 2

The second day in Philadelphia meant a visit to Chinatown and lunch at Penang, a popular Malaysian restaurant on the east coast, where we sampled rice (Nasi Lemak, with coconut chicken curry and anchovy chili curry) and chicken curry (Penang Kari Ayam). Tasty and filling, Malaysian cuisine blends Indian, Thai, and Chinese influences nicely, and the web site boasts one or two pretty fair Engrishisms. Nicely fueled, we walked from Chinatown to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a long afternoon of walking and looking. It's worth it for the Duchamps room alone, but the museum has a fine collection of Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Gris, Rousseau, and the obligatory Van Gogh paintings that denote any serious collection. It has its holes (no Klee?) and its contemporary collection is spotty (some decent pop art, but . . . ). Exhibitions featuring 18th-century brush masters and couple Ike Taiga and Tokuyama Gyokuran and Harlem Renaissance artist William H. Johnson will satisfy lovers of print and brush. Of the older pieces, a small Heironymous Bosch delighted me. Of the more recent, Marc Chagall's Half Past Three (The Poet) hit home, the empty bottle, the happy head upside down, green kitty tongue. Too bad reservations for the Barne's collection were unavailable. Amy liked the Gauguin and Renoir.

Late in the afternoon, the museum presented a happy hour jazz concert in the atrium, but sensually overloaded, we headed out to walk beside the Schuykill River and trekked on to South Street where we saw the mosaic work of Isaiah Zagar and all the shops and restaurants and missed Andrew Bird at the Fillmore (sold out). We finally collapsed in a small Indian restaurant and snacked before we headed, exhausted, to our fine Motel 6 room across the river in Maple Shade, New Jersey, next to the apparently popular Elbow Room.

So, well-fed and cultured, we headed the next day to the Super 8 in Allentown on Airport Road, as close as we could get to Bethlehem and Lehigh. Allentown itself was uneventful, even drab, but we didn't give it much of a chance. The goal was to track down my son (thanks Elizabeth) and we did, dining at Sal's near the campus. Good pizza and garlic rolls, and a glass of Carlo Rossi Paisano is free if you want one (I passed), since it's one of many byob places around the campus (they can give it away, but they can't charge for it). Best of all was hanging out with Amy and Ian where he lives, which is why we came. It's weird to see your kids grown up, talking about plans for the future, maybe the Peace Corps. We were all silly together, and it was good.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Before attending my son's graduation at Lehigh, Amy and I spent two lovely days wandering the streets of Philadelphia, eating grandly, enjoying the fine weather, and even pausing at some of the many historical landmarks. The first full day, we walked around historical Philly, saw the "back" of the Liberty Bell (which ironically lacks the crack) and Independence Hall and cobbled streets and many fine old buildings adorned with plaques emblazoned with notes on events and people in American history. We didn't go to a Phillies game. We didn't eat a cheesesteak sandwich. We wandered happily and half-oblivious. Blackberry people came suited appropriately out of the Chemical Heritage Foundation on Chestnut near Trotter's Alley, Elbow Lane, Black Horse Alley; they had Homeland Security badges on and talked animatedly about the chemicals they looked forward to consuming on our dollar. We didn't follow them. A horse pulling tourists in a carriage filled the gutter with a huge rush of piss. Our legs ached. We looked and walked. We smelled garlic. We talked and smelled. Garlic. Crowded and lively. We went in.

We went into La Locanda del Ghiottone on 3rd and sat and had a wonderful meal. The antipasto plate was fine, not extraordinary. Amy had chicken, nicely done and wine-sauced and capered with a side of roast potatoes. I had a revelatory saffron seafood risotto in a tomato sauce that, amazingly, didn't overwhelm the saffron. The seafood (clams, mussels, shrimp, calamare) was tender and the generous portion they served me evaporated. Purists might complain that the rice wasn't al dente enough, but the flavors were so wonderful and balanced, it was a good time not to be a puritan (though Puritans would be happy we didn't drink wine, because it's byob and we were unprepared). The restaurant is apparently controversial, because, looking through reviews, mostly outstanding, it appears that if you don't quite get it, they're happy to chase you out. It's Philly don't-fuck-around elegant. The room is crowded and a little loud, but it is romantic and the staff has personality. And I can still taste that saffron. Next time, I'll show up early with a nice Barolo.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Georgia Fire

The smoke is blowing somewhere else, today, so yesterday's blood orange sun is back to lemon and clouds and someone else is choking on swamp turning into light and ash and air. I worry about making my flight tomorrow to go watch my son take his turn across the stage for Lehigh's graduation ceremony, that little square-hat dance. Roads open and close depending on the winds, and we'll have to get in the car at 3 AM and drive into it. I'll have to get in the car and worry about what I might run into running away from it all, because all that life has to go somewhere if it is to avoid becoming light and ash and air. The swamps here can be marvelous and beautiful, quietly spooky, cypresses laced with Spanish moss, alligators, turtles, and pike swimming around the cypress knees, snakes curled up in trees, frogs flipping like dimes into dishes at the county fair. When the swamp dries, it becomes the worst sort of biofuel and can burn for years. Permanent signs on highways say "Possible Smoke Ahead," but my imagination wants impossible smoke.

We'll get in our car and drive into it, and end up in Philadephia where nothing's burning, exactly, though Philly fans are starting to smolder. We'll get a slice at Lorenzo's and avoid the famous cheesesteak stands and then make our way upstate for a city that burned itself up and out long ago in fires of industry and capital, where my son's on the verge of, the fulcrum of, becoming an engineer, the future ahead for all of us obscured by smoke and the fire we're turning the world into.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Fresh Homemade Sausage (Italian, Thai)

The local grocer occasionally puts out odd cuts of pork that the label calls "pork fat." It appears to be boneless trimmings from brisket, neck, and rib end sirloin, and has lots of lean with the fat. It's .69 cents a pound and makes terrific sausage. Yesterday I got my exercise grinding about four pounds of it with my hand grinder, and made two kinds of sausage, mild Italian and Thai. Obviously one could use lean cuts of beef, chicken, or turkey to blend, but nothing tastes better than grilled pork fat. Recipes follow:

Italian Sausage

2 pounds fresh pork sprinkled with fresh ground sea salt and red wine

10 cloves garlic
10 large basil leaves
Fistful of fennel seeds
tbsp fresh rosemary
one fresh green or red chile or dried red pepper
four sprigs of fresh oregano
tbsp olive oil

Chop the above ingredients into a course mix. Feed mix and meat into grinder, alternating to create a basic sausage. Afterward, add tbsp of paprika and red pepper flakes, black pepper, or cayenne pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly. Let rest in refrigerator for a day before cooking. Good on the grill or on pizza.

Thai Sausage

2 pounds pork, sprinkled lightly with lime juice and fish sauce

6 cloves garlic
Tbsp lemon grass
3/4 to 1 sq inch fresh ginger
tsp galangal powder
3 or 4 fresh thai green chili peppers
2 scallions (white heads only)
Tsp (or more, to taste) ground coriander
Fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) or basil to taste, optional

Chop the above ingredients into a course mix. Feed mix and meat into grinder, alternating to create the basic sausage. Add Fresh ground white or black pepper, red pepper flakes, or cayenne pepper to taste and blend thoroughly. Sweeten with 1/4 cup orange/lime juice blend and/or tamarind juice to taste if you want a sweeter sausage. Make sausages into patties or stuff into casings, or make into meatballs for use in Thai noodle or curry dishes. Great on the grill.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Can You Scare Me Now?

Response to posters in a discussion on a Cal Alumni listserv regarding the merits of the Fort Dix case and other DOJ credibility issues. Messy writing ahead. . .

Nancy (see quote below), this is true, and really helps make my point. It's not that people aren't truly trying to figure out ways to "hurt us"--they are and they will sadly and regrettably probably succeed some day, and we need to accept and prepare for that before it happens again or we will freak out and give up what remains of our civil liberties next time. We just can't expect to be protected from every plot, especially after all our military adventurism in the middle east.

That our current administration has so manipulated the facts in many cases for PR purposes means that, at least for me, every similar announcement provokes suspicion rather than relief. The timing of the announcement and its possible similarity to the Florida case, that Ann Coulter's ex-boyfriend and FBI Agent intervened in an investigation into a serious felony voter-fraud charge against her (just dismissed without a real investigation), the past grandiose claims that "terrorists" have been thwarted (remember the so-called Brooklyn Bridge terrorist?)--these kinds of manipulations unfortunately cast doubt on all law enforcement activities, even legitimate ones. I have no idea whether these Albanians (Albanians are typically pro-American Muslims because of our intervention in Kosovo, by the way) are real terrorists in training or more hapless PR puppets.

Please understand that I attended a local session conducted by the DOJ intended to put us at ease about the Patriot Act when Ashcroft was AG. Noticing some disturbing passive voice on a
poster with a clause stating that the act would only come into play if "it has been determined" that someone is a terrorist, I asked the regional attorney flat out "Who determines?" I was expecting to hear some reference to some court or legal proceeding, but he just said, "The Attorney General determines."

Our modus operandi as a country since 2001 seems to have been "Can you scare me now?"

So, Albert must go and the senate must confirm someone who can restore fed cred.

> it doesn't mean there aren't idiots
>who want to hurt us, as a country we've botched things so badly, we make
>great targets.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Turley and Everwine and Hannah and her Sister, Part Last

After a leisurely morning sipping coffee and groggily seeing George and Amy leave to walk Mookie and Nigel (or vice versa) and then off to work (and I thank them again for their wonderful hospitality), I headed up the coast toward Fresno, where I was born at.

I took the 101 to Paso Robles, where my mother is from and where my grandparents farmed almonds, zinfandel, and vegetables . My uncle, proprietor of Richard Sauret Vineyards, still lives there and grows grapes for Rosenblum and other wineries (congrats on inclusion in Wine Spectator's top 100 for that yummy 2003, by the way), so making a quick wine stop seemed appropriate. Since I've always been a big fan of Turley Zins (or a fan of big Turley Zins), I made that my stop of choice despite the temptations of many new wineries along the 101/41 corridor. A quick turn onto Vineyard Road in Templeton led me to the redesigned winery and tasting room (formerly Pesenti winery) and I tasted several new releases, including the powerful Ueberroth and their version of the famed Dusi vineyard. Very good wines, all, so I ordered half a case to be sent to me (isn't it Friday yet?), some I can drink soon (Old Vines) and some to hold, the Moore Earthquake--fond memories of sharing one bottle, 17.1% natural alcohol, with Kurt Brown and David Oliveira at the Paradise Grill in Santa Barbara--and a Haynes Vineyard, their flagship zin. Some don't like Turley style wines, especially James Laube, but I find the fruit extraction more than compensates for the alcohol. Generally, the nose is dense fruit with just a hint of briar (moreso in the central coast offerings) and spices more or less complicate it nicely or amazingly, depending on the source. They're balanced, portlike wines without the sweetness, and I can only compare them to Amarones in a great year, with roasted fruit flavors and enough acidity to make it friendly to strongly flavored foods or even with deserts. They make a port, but it wasn't available for tasting.

I arrived in the afternoon at the Williams "Estate" in Fresno, a green 50s era tract home in a lower middleclass neighborhood two blocks from William Saroyan's former pair of Fresno houses. My nieces, Haley and Hannah, were playing in the wading pool, while my parents fiddled in the garden. Dad's gone seco-palm crazy, and sprouting fronds everywhere make the yard an eye and balloon hazzard, but it was nice to be home and to see my parents in good health. Dad has lost 20 pounds and Mom especially looks much younger than her 67 years. It was also good to catch up with the kids' mom, my sister Kelly, and Chase, her oldest son.

The next day, my full day in Fresno, I planned to visit the homes of various poets I know there. Phil Levine was in New York, but I wanted to catch up with Peter Everwine, Connie and John Hales, Glover Davis, Charles Hanzlicek, Jon Vineberg and Dixie Salazar (David O. and I visited Jon and Dixie last year), and I made a contact list and headed out. I made it to Peter's and just never left. It was great to see one of my favorite teachers and one of our finest poets, share a couple glasses of zin, and hang out, talking about everything from mutual friends mentioned already, poets we liked (especially Bob Hicok, whom Peter likened to Bill Matthews in terms of his pure love of language), prose poetry, the book festival, and our lives. I enjoyed his classes because he was so efficient and yet genial. He cut through everything in a workshop or class and always said something that was both surprising and luminous. He'd pull us out of our cloud-of-dust verbal scrum and say, "Hey, look up, here." Then he'd show us. I don't think I ever would have pursued poetry if it weren't for him. I first met him through his work, when Thom Gunn at Cal pulled out one of his poems, "Desire," to show us what a great contemporary poem was, then later when I met him in Fresno as I pursued a teaching credential, showed him a little poem, and heard him tell me to my surprise that it was good enough for me to begin serious study. (I can't emphasize enough the word begin in the previous sentence.) It still took me several years to get into the program, since I had a young family and a new career as a teacher. But his encouragement helped many of us take the art seriously even as many of us were intimidated by his inimitable, underappreciated talent. To whit, one of my favorite poems of all time, currently available in From the Meadow: New and Selected Poems (Pitt Poetry Series, 2004):

How It Is

This is how it is --
One turns away
and walks out into the evening.

There is a white horse on the prairie, or a river
that slips away among dark rocks.
One speaks, or is about to speak,
not that it matters.

What matters is this --
It is evening.
I have been away a long time.
Something is singing in the grass.

Peter Everwine

Monday, May 7, 2007

Who isn't tired of the Pinot Envy pun? CA, pt. III

Not me, apparently. After "philosophizing" in Chris Buckley's backyard, I headed back to Santa Barbara, parked, and walked to the end of the pier that famously burned up in November, 1998. I know the date because it was my birthday and I was driving back from the airport after defending my dissertation at the U. of U. in Salt Lake City. I remember rounding a bend and seeing the horizon on fire. The entire city was burning, I thought, but it was just creosote-soaked planks and pylons spitting flame. (Months later, I arrived home and a sobbing voice on my answering machine pleaded with whomever he was trying to call to help him recover from the financial and artistic loss of his paintings that burned. He sadly left no number.)

After reacquainting myself with the sea air and the waves, I walked to Madeleine and Bob's condo to say hello. They didn't know I was coming, so it was delightful to surprise Madeleine (Bob, alas, was at UCLA) and Sophie and their guests, Lily and Lily's grandmother. When two two-year-olds are around, they pretty much determine the course of human events, so we sat around, played, read parts of books, talked between lulls in the perfect chaos. It was fun and especially wonderful to see Madeleine so happy.

Later, we all headed to dine with dear friends George and Amy, who graciously put me up for the night and who hosted an impromptu gathering in my honor. The evening evolved into a study of California's pinot terroirs (which I guess makes us homegrown terroirists [insert bad pun drumbeat here]), beginning with a 2002 Williams-Selyem Rocchioli Riverblock (rich nose, evolving complexity; opening with this is definitly going all in). Friends dropped in and we munched pizza and caught up. Patrick was looking as dapper as ever, and he still maintains his intellectual ferocity. Mookie and Nigel, the house greyhounds, towered over Sophie, who ran around the yard with them anyway. Chryss (one of those Santa Barbara poets) and her new husband Dan came by as well, and we talked about music and the woes at the News Press and kids and people and events and anything, all the while powering through several more bottles of pinot and three pizzas. George kept it lively, spinning cd's from one of the best music collections in the west (Eric Bachmann and Yo La Tengo covering anyone, among several fine others). The second bottle, the 2000 Dehlinger Octagon, was my favorite of the evening, perfectly aged (like all of us, I hope?), laser fruit and spices and a wonderful finish with a hint of smoke. A 2003 Longoria Bien Nacido, one of my favorites from my time there, followed that with its rich, ripe central coast earthiness. There was a 2004 Brego pinot from Anderson Valley that explored the youthful strawberry side of the pinot spectrum. I might have missed one, but by the third bottle, one sips more than one takes mental notes. All in all, it was a wonderful evening--what we live for, good friends, food, wine, an evening that tailed off into quiet comfort and restful warmth.

The only thing missing from it all was my Amy, but here's a toast to you, sweetness. Cheers.

(Thanks for the help on the winelist, George.) Fresno tomorrow, I promise.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

What begins in Pixley and ends in Zin

After driving up PCH's foggy ribbon to Santa Barbara, I had the pleasure of the company of dear friends whom I knew the five years I lived in Santa Barbara. I arrived at the Sandman Motel, which turned out to be the hotel my old apt. complex put my son Ian and me in when they were doing some work. I called George and Amy, who were entertaining Amy's folks. They invited me over for a nice risotto and a yummy Rhone blend and amazing cheese and five dogs competing for attention and I had a wonderful time. Amy's parents are fun to be around, adventurous and lively. It was a quick evening, though, as I arrived later than I expected, and I needed sleep.

Monday morning I checked out and drove to Lompoc to see my friend Christopher Buckley, who'd just received a Guggenheim. We met at a wonderful Laotian/Thai restaurant, Suvann's, which serves all the usual dishes, but they make and serve a homemade pork and lemon grass sausage that's wonderful spicy and slightly sweet, like your lover's earlobe. We ate and talked Poetolitics, then went to his backyard to continue and philosophize over a delightful and inexpensive wine from Pixley, of all places. The marketing writing on the back was effusive, praising the "breath-taking central valley" (I might have used the term "choking," but then again I wouldn't have got the job) and the winery's environmentally friendly practices (When have you not thought of Pixley and environmentally friendly in the same sentence?). Not bad for a two-buck cab franc from an outlet store--a little roasted like old-style zin, but enough clove on the palate to make things interesting. Chris was great and I we talked for several hours about everything from cats to catharsis. My only regret was that Nadia, Chris' wife, was at work. Hummingbirds sipped sugar water. The sky was blue, white where the clouds smeared.

Tomorrow I'm journeying home to sweet Amy, but this trip will continue to Monday night in SB and on to Turley and Fresno and family and dear, dear Peter Everwine, when I'm finally, finally home.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

On the Road, PT 1 LA

Writing from Fresno today, after a long weekend in LA at the book festival working the poetry corner and a fine day and evening with wonderful friends in the Santa Barbara area.

The book festival brought writers and readers from all over the southland, and that it continues to feature a venue devoted entirely to poetry is what keeps me going back every year. Highlights this year included David St. John, Mark Doty, Erin Belieu, a tribute to Bert Meyers, Charles Harper Webb, Jane Miller and Jane Mead, old friend Richard Beban, and many others. The only problem with working the corner is that it makes attending other events difficult. I missed out on a pre-teen fantasy when I missed Tina Louise's reading of her new children's book, though, I was always a Mary Ann (Dawn Wells) fan, to be honest. On the plus side, I missed out on Christopher Hitchens' boorish tantrums. Apparently, he calls security if someone asks a question he doesn't like. He must have missed the first amendment question on his citizenship test. At any rate, the poetry winner, Frederick Seidel wasn't there, so we pressed on. The lack of winners at the award ceremony perhaps made the after celebration a bit more muted, but since I was with my dear, wise friend Margaret, I had a delightful evening; she helps me see through my self-blindness. My love, Amy, adores her as well (We missed you, Amy). Friend and fellow poet and emcee Elena Karina Byrne (who should have been reading) was an ever-smiling spirit-being organizing the tent area, and Noah Blaustein dropped in to help us find good restaurants to eat and dine and tell stories in. His wife, Cristina, is lovely as ever, and I finally met their new daughter, Siena, happy and intelligent well beyond her 10 months. Paul Willis, Phil Taggart, and Jackson Wheeler, all old friends, also dropped in.

In LA, I stayed in the Tradewind Adventurer's motel in Inglewood on Century Blvd, near Hollywood Park. Strange place to be in. Jets pour noise over, white noise syrup, but the courtyard was peaceful otherwise and filled with travelers, many backpackers from Europe, so I enjoyed the international atmosphere. Not the cleanest place, but if you've backpacked Europe and Asia, it'll do, it's cheap, and it's near the 405. The nearby Indian restaurant on Century and La Brea boasts at its grand opening that it serves the best Indian cuisine in LA. It doesn't, but it was fine; it's not often that I find chicken makhani on a lunch buffet, and the naan was served fresh, crispy, and hot.

Tomorrow, Santa Barbara, Wine, and Fresno in the "breath-taking central valley."