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I've been doing a bad job of commemorating special occasions lately. Or maybe I'm doing a good job of not expending too much energy thinking about the past. Either way, I increasingly find my long-standing tendency not to look very far ahead complemented by a desire not to look very far behind.

But sometimes you just can't ignore the date. The Loma Prieta Quake in 1989 was a very big deal in my life, both because of what didn't happen to me that day and what did over the next two weeks.

Today I'll concentrate on the former. My friend Josh had suggested that we drive down to Jack London Square to watch Game 3 of the Bay Bridge series on the big-screen television there. This was a decade before mobile phones became a part of my world. Making plans was difficult and changing them even harder. I spent an awful lot of time standing at pay phones, typically in BART stations. Even so, things often went awry.

Josh was supposed to pick me up on Bancroft, in front of Eshleman Hall, around 4:30pm. Earlier that day, however, I'd committed to put flyers up for the organization Let's Elect the Chancellor. I believed in the cause, certainly. But I probably wouldn't have been so actively involved if Annalee and her partner David were not members of the organization. Although we'd broken up in June, while spending three week staying at my parents' house in Maryland, I was slow to find new housing. We still got along well enough as friends, so living together in her Berkeley apartment over the summer was't a total disaster.

It wasn't easy, though. She was starting to get involved with David, a friend of Josh's whom I'm had been hanging out with regularly for the past year. The situation was awkward. Because we were all pretty broke, though, and enjoyed each other's company, the three of us ended up spending a lot of time together engaged in an activity we collectively referred to as, "scraping the screen of life." Sometimes I had the impression that David wanted me around, whether because he wasn't sure he desired a relationship with Annalee or because he had sympathy for my plight, since I was obviously still in love with her.

Even after I moved out in August, I spent a lot of my time with Annalee. When David expressed interest in Physics professor Charlie Schwartz's cause -- he was always trying to get the Chancellor elected -- she eagerly joined him and I started tagging along. I'm sure she would rather have had me keep a wider berth, but I was thinking with my heart. Soon I found myself trying to prove how committed I was to the cause in order to impress David. It was an odd dynamic, to say the least.

At any rate, when we met in the middle of the day on October 17th to divide up the labor of promoting and organizing our next general meeting, I volunteered to put up flyers despite the fact that I had class that afternoon and was then supposed to meet up with Josh. So I decided to skip class. But instead of actually putting up the flyers, I sat around brooding about my unrequited love until I'd worked up a mental lather worthy of Werther.

By the time I collected myself, it was nearly 5pm. That, not coincidentally, was the time when Annalee's Early American Literature class let out. I'd known all along that she would probably be walking with a bunch of her classmates to hang out at Kip's. Rather oddly, David and I had taken to crashing this grad-school party together every week, soaking up the intellectual energy even as we wryly commented on our exclusion from the club. The only member of the class who made the two of us feel welcome, aside from Annalee, was the older guy in the Giants hat who seemed to revel in being a regular guy.

I decided, for reasons both selfish and stupid, to intercept Annalee during the post-class stroll across Sproul Plaza and ask for her help in putting up the flyers I had volunteered to distribute all by myself. Understandably, though, when I approached her amid the plane trees between Sproul and Bancroft, she was annoyed at me for intruding. I pressed the point for a minute, but then thought better of it and headed down the steps towards Lower Sproul.

I knew Josh would be waiting for me, yet opted to enter Eshleman so that I could at least claim to have done some of the flyering I'd promised to finish. If I'd had a mobile phone, I would have texted him to say I was running late. But because I had no way of contacting him, I just hoped that he wouldn't drive off.

That's why I was on the sixth floor of Eshleman, where all the left-wing groups were housed, when the earthquake struck. I was walking down the hall in the direction of the Bay. There was a non-structural sheet rock wall on my left and a much harder exterior wall on my right. At first the floor and windows started shaking as they had during the 5-something San José quake I'd experienced that spring. But then the whole building pitched so violently to the left that I literally fell into that interior wall. Luckily, by the time the building headed back to the right I'd collected my wits sufficiently to brace my fall -- there is no other way to describe it -- into the exterior wall with my hand.

Although I'd never been out on the high seas, I knew, instinctively, that this was what it must have felt like to traverse them in a large sailing vessel. And then I thought, "Buildings shouldn't act like boats; the whole thing is going to collapse." As it turns out, I was dead wrong. Architects want tall buildings to act like boats during an earthquake. Everything was happening according to plan. For a few seconds, though, I was trying to calculate whether it would be better or worse for me to be on the next-to-top floor in the event of Eshleman's destruction.

Once the shaking stopped, I exited via the stairway -- somehow, I remembered that elevators were a bad idea in case of emergency -- and found myself spilling out onto Lower Sproul, where a crowd was gazing westward, mouth agape, at the giant plate glass windows that fronted Zellerbach Hall. I asked someone what they were looking at. He turned to me stunned. "The windows were billowing like sails," he effused, "but they didn't break!"

Still jittery and not yet feeling wired with adrenaline as I would be a little later, I drifted into the Bear's Lair with a notion to watch the World Series. I'd completely forgotten about Josh at this point. Oddly, with the regulars sitting in their usual spots, the watering hole seemed surprisingly normal. I ordered a beer and sat down in front of the biggest television, still showing Candlestick Park. Then the soon-to-be-famous footage of the Bay Bridge and the Cypress Structure came on the screen, with Al Michaels doing voiceover, and I realized that there wasn't going to be a baseball game.

I wandered out of the Bear's Lair only to find Annalee and David, who had gone to meet her at Kip's, standing along Bancroft with my friend Leanne. We exchanged a few words, collectively achieving what I would later identify as "post-disaster rush". And then Josh walked up, chiding me for standing him up. He'd parked the car a block away, after waiting quite a while for me, deciding that he didn't want to go to Jack London Square by himself.

Only later did I realize that my tardiness might have saved us from harm. Not having a car, I didn't know the Bay Area's freeway system very well. But when I looked at a map of the damage two days later, I realized that Josh and I would most likely have been on the Cypress Structure at 5:04pm had I gone straight to meet him instead of waiting to intercept Annalee. To be honest, though, this didn't feel like a brush with death so much as a brush with excitement.

In the weeks following the quake I found myself flooded with boundless energy and a willingness to take risks that was definitely out of character. Indeed, I was still riding the wave of post-quake adrenaline when I met my future partner on October 30th. I'm sure it was an important factor in moving me to respond to her flirtation instead of pretending that I hadn't noticed. And I know that it played a role in leading me to ignore everything I'd been taught about safe sex. But that's a tale for another day. . .

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Skylar was given the assignment, on short notice, to write a "list" poem for her Literature class. Because it's due tomorrow and she has already been working on her other homework for hours, I read her the opening lines of Christopher Smart's eighteenth-century tribute to his cat Jeoffry from Jubilate Agno, which Annalee Newitz and I used to enjoy reading aloud.

Skylar was inspired to attempt her own version, dedicated to her feline. I left her for a few minutes to use the bathroom -- we're hanging out at the Barnes & Noble Café in Foothills Mall -- and returned to find that she had already completed the assignment. I was glad, since I had feared that she would labor over the task as someone of her creative bent is inclined to do and was worried that she would run out of energy before her homework was completed. But when I saw what she'd come up with, my happiness magnified a hundred fold:
For I will consider my cat Punka
For her eyes burn brighter than all the tigers in the forests of the night.
For her robe of charcoal sweeps to her dainty toes.
For her tail is a plume.
For her eyebrows were singed away by the flame of Satan.
For she views food as a primitive curiosity beneath her contempt.
For she does not need solid fuel to feed her wild soul.
For she is smarter than my father.
For she counts the rows of helpless, neon mice and minces them with her claws.
For she is the predator.
For she regards her siblings as lower forms of life that God created for her prey.
For she leaps upon them from the night of the ceiling, sinking her teeth into their fur with a hiss.
For satisfying her bloodthirsty jaws, she squashes the black beetles from the cracks in the walls and eats the remains.
For she sleeps in the sink to block her servants from tentatively attempting to brush their teeth.
For she is irresistible when her motor rumbles.
For she is the love of the life of the universe and all its inhabitants.
For she is the bear.
This is a grand imitation of Smart's style. But the scary thing is that I read Skylar only a small portion of Smart's original and not the best parts -- and the ones that her lines evoke most strongly -- which come later on.

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When I picked Skylar up from school on Monday, she excitedly reported that she had won the district-wide poetry contest for her grade level. This isn't the first time. But it meant a lot more this time, given the dynamics of middle school.

You see, even though Skylar has done an amazing job of keeping her distance from the so-called "popular girls" while also fending off the jealousy of students in the gifted program -- she was only admitted this year, but is at the top of her class -- she still needs positive affirmation in her educational environment. And winning an award is one way to do it.

Yes, her fellow aspiring poets may resent her, but the majority of her schoolmates know that they aren't about to win a poetry contest and have respect for those who can. Especially the girls, who are so hard to impress at this age.

The best part was that Skylar was late for school that morning and missed the announcement, which meant that other students in her first-period class gave her the news. The impulse to congratulate is apparently stronger when one gets to be the bearer of good tidings.

Last year Skylar wrote some great poems for someone her age, but didn't win something for the first time since she started elementary school. The reason, as I surmised at the time, was partially that her writing had outgrown the context in which it was being evaluated and partially that her subject matter was too remote for the well-off Foothills of Tucson:
San Francisco

A crumpled mailbox stands
on a sunny Oakland street,
while the smoggy windows of a subway
block out views of the station,
ever in a hurry,
away from spray-painted fences
ripped by yowling Rotweilers,
away to the arches of the sunset,
away to all the alley cats slinking,
and skyscrapers tearing blue cotton,
away from the crumpled mailbox
on a sunny Oakland street.
Her poetry unit this year wasn't very long and happened when she was preoccupied and recovering from an illness. She did all her serious writing in a single evening, coming up with two poems she was happy with. The first, inspired by visiting my mother in the hospital, was my favorite and hers:

The Hospital

A crinkled mattress sighs
In the small hospital room
Reminiscing
Over patients

They came and went
Some dying
Under the plastic sheets
Cheap as dime store bubblegum

Others escaped
The fluorescent tubes
To watch the sun
Bleach rooftops

And shove despair
Into the shadows,
Slinking away like a
Stray animal

Back to the hospital,
Pale as a scar,
The room
Where light
Might as well
Be darkness
Remembering her experience the previous year, however, she chose to submit the other poem she composed that evening, because it was about school:
My Walk Into School

My coat feels itchy
Clinging to me
An extra skin
I seize it

To protect me
From the rain splattering the pavement

I shuffle past
The cars
Stained with the shivering rain
Dull as the frowning sky

I shuffle down the crosswalk
dappled with wet freckles

Students walk
In front of the school
Staring at me
In my big, black coat

Their eyes drive me
Into a mental fishbowl
On display

The rain shrivels
When it bounces off my coat
But the stares seep right through
And dampen my spirits

I would rather blunder
Through a hurricane
Than have to make it
Past this crowd
Personally, I prefer the school poem she wrote last year, which has a more complicated nesting of tropes:
Cliques

The swift girls and boys glide,
as an assortment of varied clichés,
while a lone drop of rain plops
in an ocean far away,
away from the whispering shore.
The ocean water from far away
slinks through a tap
at a department store,
where pencils and erasers are sorted
by their own pleasures,
a fraction of apples and oranges,
never knowing what lies
on the other side.
But I understand why the poem she wrote about her big, black coat won the district-wide award, even though I wish she could stretch herself without being punished. Thankfully, she feels the same way. Given the boost in confidence that winning this year provided, however, her pragmatic approach to the contest was clearly the correct one.

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As I turn to clear
the table, I confront
the two placemats,
side by side, a little
closer than I'd expected.

The left one is dotted
with blood-brown drops.
"Vinegar and oil," I
realize, smiling at the
meaning I've made for

myself. The right one
is dry, but still not clean.
There's a bit of lettuce,
shrunken up like a dark
secret too brittle to unfold,

and a trapezoid of onion
through which the grain
of the mat peers through,
distorted just enough to
make me notice what

I otherwise have learned
not to see. They are
spaced in accordance
with the rule of thirds

which implores us to
avoid the center at all
costs. All I can do is stand
aside and watch.

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You’re right: you made me feel
so good about myself that I wanted
to punish you. When you held me,
I was scared. I struggled to do enough
to please, self-destructively. We came
to fear causing displeasure, centered
on the wrong things. Root out the
blame! Our mutual commission to
descry symptoms was not sharing,


Peel away the layers and you usually end up at a destination you can't stand to witness


just scheming for power. Did you
understand why I was trying to express
that I wasn't good enough as I was?
I never wanted the attention. Pressure
to connect was enormous. And tedious.
You were frustrated by my seeming
inability to assert a worldview. But
I saw myself reflected in your hurt.

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On my way down the stairs
I stop to feel the boards
that spring back, wobbling
with regret. I've been here
many times, each visit bringing
me to the same spot, each time
a little farther than before.

Or is it just my imagination
running away from me?
Tonight the tide is high
and I'm holding on
to this awkward ledge
with muscles I didn't know
I'd ever have to use, just to
write this message on my
phone, blot out the emptiness

with its glow. When I first sat
on the rock, I looked out at
the sound of waves getting
too close and thought that
there weren't enough pixels

in my mind to turn the vast
gray noise into something
worth remembering. Only
the one light on the water
made the spectacle bearable.

But I drowned it anyway
with this light in my hands.
Sometimes I lift my eyes
to see the rectangle blur out

over the breakers, leaving a
blank to hover in their wake.
The water is almost at my feet
now, I hear the little rocks
make the sound of popcorn

right before it's ready. It's time
to go back, though I could
stay until there was nothing
left but a piece of useless
plastic, buried in the sand.

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As part of a group project in her fifth-grade Spanish class, Skylar has to produce a poem about Buenos Aires. While we were at Beyond Bread before her martial arts class this afternoon she decided to get a head start. This is what she came up with, in three minutes:
The city sweeps me,
the silver windows of its teeth flashing,
soaring through the clouds,
to a smooth, stone finger,
the obelisk,
pointing to a lost object,
not seen or heard,
past restaurants packed with
steaming steak,
through the Biblioteca Nacional
with dusty books
bursting with knowledge,
and still we pass,
a final dip,
a bow,
and the pancake sun
drips
butter on my velvet gown,
bleaching it into morning.
It's scary, watching how quickly this kind of language and form come to her. Scary in a good way, that is. The only problem is that I now have the task of helping her translate it into Spanish. Anybody know whether "pancake sun" will make sense?

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Somewhere in the
"New Country", I
smelled how stale
it had become,
dust in the archive.
When I realized,
I rifled through
the stack for a second
whiff, concluding
the sensation
began around
Loretta Lynn,
Ain't I Woman
Enough
. Apparently
not. I keep
inhaling, but
the air isn't
any more
clear. I'm going
to step outside
for a year or two.

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Jimi Hendrix is curled
over his white guitar,
but I'm looking over
his shoulder at the
shadows on a
telephone pole, to
see what the light
was like back then.

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So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens

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After I got back to Tucson yesterday, I wanted to spend the day sleeping. But because Skylar's mother had to work until very late, I had childcare responsibilities. Only minutes after I'd picked Skylar up, however, it became apparent to me that I would benefit more from her company than I would from immediate slumber. She's always a great kid, of course, but has been on a real roll of late. Her mind is working so fast and she has so many interesting topics to discuss. It's a delight to be with her, even when ostensibly doing nothing.

We swam at the JCC and got something to eat before heading home. By that time, I thought my sleep-deprivation and lingering alimentary unease had finally gotten the better of me. When we came home, though, Skylar wanted to talk poetry. First she read all the poems printed in her latest issue of Highlights and discussed their merits, as well as broader questions of rhyme and rhythm that her current unit in school have triggered. Then she read aloud a poem from Michael Davidson's Arcades, which I'd brought back from my trip. And then she wanted to write some poetry of her own.

She asked me for prompts to get her thoughts flowing. I would throw out a singe word, like "lost" and she would then produce a poem from the mental associations it set in motion. Here are three of the ones she came up with, each titled with the prompt I'd given her:
San Francisco

A crumpled mailbox stands
on a sunny Oakland street,
while the smoggy windows of a subway
block out views of the station,
ever in a hurry,
away from spray-painted fences
ripped by yowling Rotweilers,
away to the arches of the sunset,
away to all the alley cats slinking,
and skyscrapers tearing blue cotton,
away from the crumpled mailbox
on a sunny Oakland street.



Cliques

The swift girls and boys glide,
as an assortment of varied clichés,
while a lone drop of rain plops
in an ocean far away,
away from the whispering shore.
The ocean water from far away
slinks through a tap
at a department store,
where pencils and erasers are sorted
by their own pleasures,
a fraction of apples and oranges,
never knowing what lies
on the other side.


New York

Behind a pane of glass
the gray street blows,
Garbage flutters,
as brawny men haul the cans in
their trucks,
while caution tape flairs
down rough stairs
littered with popcorn,
leading on,
cars speeding along damp
bridges,
waving at a copper lady.
Even after Skylar went to bed, I had a terrible time falling into restful sleep. But the memory of the fun I'd had with her sustained me, as it is ding right now.

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Sitting outside the café, reading poetry out loud to my daughter, I struggle to gauge her reaction. The young guys at the neighboring table are making me nervous, not because of anything they've done, but because they are too close. What will they think? It doesn't cross my mind to wonder the same about the white and purple scarf draped around my neck. Maybe reading poetry makes sense for someone so idiosyncratically attired.

When I get to the part in Robert Frost's "After Apple-Picking" that describes a memory of the ladder's rung, inscribed on the musculature, I think of my forays into the mesquite to trim away the excess weight. Charles Bowden has it right. There's something both wonderful and disturbing about a tree that grows so fast. It serves as the ideal allegory for my life. I turn excess into huge piles of waste, spend hours laboriously chopping it into pieces small enough to cart away, then get back up on the ladder to do it all over again the next week and the week after that. My daughter says she gets the poem about two thirds of the way through. I stop. She says she wants me to continue, that she likes it.

Next up is T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." The protagonist depresses her, makes her impatient. Some lines resonate but many more fall flat. I am disheartened. But then I decide to read her Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird." This poem, the hardest of the bunch, delights her. Five minutes after I'm done reading I ask her what she thought of it. She enthusiastically quotes a whole stanza back to me, every word in the proper place, even though she has only heard the poem once.

On the drive to the dojo for her martial arts class she comes up with the idea, for a school assignment, of writing about thirteen ways of looking at a banana. I think she's just being silly until she composes a beautiful line about the star you see inside the circle of the peeled fruit's cross-section, what she calls a "perfect figure." She tells me than when she is a teacher she plans to make her students write different poems modeled after "Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Blackbird."

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I was reading through my copy of the UC Berkeley poetry journal Occident's 1990 edition, its Palmer/Davidson issue. I love the presentation of those two Michael's poems, together with emotionally and stylistically proximate criticism of their work. For that achievement the journal's editor at the time P. Michael Campbell -- someone who always struck me as extraordinarily friendly and welcoming, without any Maude Fife Room airs -- deserves great credit.

The rest of the issue, as is typical with such university-sponsored productions, contains a lot of "in house" contributors, including work by a former professor of mine, undergraduate and graduate poets I'd heard about from my friends and some by people I was close to myself. Interestingly, though, the poem that resonated most for me tonight was Julio Vinograd's spare vignette.

Because she wandered the streets of Berkeley, especially in the vicinity of People's Park, hawking her low-budget chap books and blowing bubbles, Vinograd was looked at askance by many of the folks I knew with aspirations to "lit-ra-tchur", as if she were degrading the brand of poetry by selling it too cheaply on the street. Personally, I always liked her poems, even if they trod the same sonic and thematic landscape. But, because I wasn't an expert like the poets I spent time with, I kept this judgment to myself.

That's why it delighted me to learn, shortly after this issue of Occident came out, that her street poetry had been shaped by a stint at the University of Iowa Writer's Workshop. Not that such a distinction guarantees quality, mind you. Knowing she had come through that rather industrial program confirmed for me both that she knew what she was doing as a writer, even if she did choose to spend her days blowing bubbles on Telegraph, and that the aspects of her work that I wearied of when I read more than a few poems at a time were, in fact, characteristic of Iowa poets in general rather than any specific limitations she might have.

Anyway, the poem I found tonight showcases what she did best, telling stories of the people she encountered out on the street with a cool detachment that demonstrated that, even though her heart was in the right place, her mind was always off to one side reflecting on the scenes in which she invested her compassion:
Just Out of Jail

"Write about me," he stops me on the street.
Bright colored Guatemalan shirt,
luxurious cigarette, husky voice, insistent.
"Tell them I just got out;
I was 3 years in jail."
He takes a deep breath, hesitates,
this is important:
"Tell them I hated being locked up,"
he bursts out indignantly
and then shakes his head
because the words don't say it.
He looks at me doubtfully. It's spring.
Some angry sparrows fight over pizza crumbs.
There's a cardboard box full of free puppies
with their eyes still filmy.
A pretty girl talks to her friends
and doesn't notice her strawberry yogurt's
dripping to the sidewalk,
then she does and squeals.
How could I possibly understand?
3 years.
"Try anyway," he says,
"you've got to tell them;
you've just got to."
While the use of contrast here is probably too pat for most "educated" tastes and the self-reflexivity comes too easily, I am still awed by Vinograd's capacity to craft "poetry for the people." That slogan, taken up by June Jordan and her students, still fires me up. In the end, though, I think the best poetry for the people is less likely to be the overtly engaged sort that tended to come out of Jordan's classes at UC Berkeley than the wry musings of Vinograd's participant observer.

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From Allen Ginsburg, Journals Mid-Fifties, 1954-1958--
10 Minute Sonnet
The cunts of wheelbarrows & the cocks of cars
Fuck in the starry nite; Embarcadero,
I'm working on the S.P. shifting bars
of gold & lead & iron, Jailhouse Joe
he works beside me, & I work by Mars,
the fattened trucksman with his tattered No.
Mailbags, Xmas, Frisco, whores of Port
Time's truck rides down the hiway to the hill
over the road home, over my nose a wart,
Joe's in Carolina, Tangiers in Bill,
Lucien's in N.Y., Neal's stopped short
I'm all alone on the dock I made my will,
all things tend to this moment, shadow,
and the rest, the past, this is my mad meadow.

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I've found all sorts of things down here. Most of them cannot be shared at present. But the poems, which previously evaded my efforts to retroactively tag entries, are suitable for semi-public consumption:
Eeerie Lackawanna

It's like this more often
than not. I know where
the book is. There's a
picture of it on the shelf

inside my mind. Yes, it
needs dusting. But the map
works with or without a
matte finish. When I go

there, though, the place
is a shadow. If I wanted
room for something new I
would be delighted. "There!"

It's different to remember
what was there before.
Line endings. A refusal
to speed up. Blank truth

that speaks louder than
ornament. I know it's
no accident that she picked
your essay to read, before

the news. She used to dream
of high water. And there it
would be, lapping the
concrete next to her morning

jog. I made her go once,
to hear you, despite
the buttoned-up setting.
"It could be our last

chance." I'm glad, really,
even if it sounds
morbid now. Anyway,
this should have been

a reading. But I can't
find the words, only
their spot on the shelf.
The shadow knows.



Dust

I'd blame the water
but we live in a desert.
Wind, then, eroding
the space between who
we are and what we
are. There's no place
left to sit. Subtlety
has become dust,
fine-grained like the
landscape we have
forgotten, replete with
possibility. Now it has
hardened into act.
The remainder penetrates
our breath. The sun
drinks. We cough, hold
hands over our eyes.
There's nothing left
to see, is there?



Open, Close

for Julian Boyd

This is the month of dead fathers.
I reach my hand into the bag
of darkness, linger on the blue
velvet as I fumble for details

because I need something to
hold fast. Roast beef sandwiches,
getting bus-sick on Interstate 80
as I flipped through my reader,

light-green, the cover torn. Your
scrawl, coarsened by the copier,
reminding me how little I know. Let
me ride past the refineries of

memory. One day I drove out to
Richmond to help Robin Goodbeer,
her basement perfumed with reality.
You showed her Hamlet's problem

was an excess of whiteness. We
dream of leaving the body but
it's our blood that makes us sing.
Before I heard the news I walked

back and forth in a bookstore,
restless until I spotted the Confessions.
Chapter 11. Bankruptcy of the limbs,
then lungs and liver. The ideas

remain solvent. Why did Nick
like opening cans? Because
that way he always came full
circle. You identified. A

windswept North of the mind.
Always trying to narrow
the point. And then you realized
it was gone. Clear water

is a lie. You know what you
want but not what you lack.
The real man heads for the
swamp. Louisiana. The

Depression. A mother soaking
up liquor. Nick never got
there. But you did. The fishing
may be harder, but it's a lot more

honest. Slowly you retrieved
the words you had lost,
repairing the broken links
between them with baling wire,

your fingers, voice wrapping
over and under until they held,
precarious. Ten minutes later
you had to do it all over. Some

rituals are worth repeating. I
remember when I first felt
you circling back through
me. I knew German. You

remembered. Phrases float
to the foamy surface, bumping
into water-logged things. The
truth conditions on counter-

factual subjunctives. If I had
called your house, we would
have had a halting conversation.
If we had walked up that hill

behind the music building, we
could have talked forever. Maybe
that's the lesson. You have to be
there. I see you reaching out

to punctuate a point, feel
the way your grip clamped onto my
shoulder, always longer and
stronger than I expected. How

the sight of that orange
Karman Ghia lured a story
out of its paper-walled hiding
place. If it's philosophy

of action, where are the
action verbs? This is pure
passion. I love you and
you can no longer love

me back. When the little
circle, perpendicular,
bites into the big one,
it leaves a metalled furrow.

Endlessly you opened
them. Cans. Shoulds.
Musts. My lid is off
now. The liquid sloshes

over the edges. It might
spill on the floor, make
a puddle to tramp through.
I will never forget.



Next

The next big thing already
has a tear in it. You can see
some ass. Still, there's charm
in a failure to take cover.



Mayday, Almost May Day

There's something to be said
for a poem you can translate
without a dictionary. So let
me say it: I'll take a lover
in boxer shorts over one
dolled up in satin or, yes,
even latex any day of the
week. Sometimes the most
necessary beauties are
those that are comfortable
in their curves, soft-sided
testament to the absence of
fiction. Spring is here!



Premonition

The fish floats on its side, crumpled
in the corner of the tank. I worry
that it's finally dead, walking closer
until I see the slightest movement.
"Hi fish," is greeted with a flip or
a flop. Sometimes I sing. And
then I toss in more bloodworms,
steering them numbly toward
the edge. I feed the problem, pretend

I'm serving up a cure. For a long
time the fish sought shelter in the
volcano, its back wedged up inside
the hollow so tightly that you had
to look hard to even see it. But
now it's always out, steady
reminder that, even if we're not
dead yet, we will be. I wait.

I watch. There was a flick of the
tail a minute ago, though as I write
this the beaten blue form floats
lifelessly, full of a life that won't
go gently into the toilet or the
backyard, wherever we deposit
our losses. I know it's wrong

of me to make everything into a
sign: the clock on the bedroom
wall that's been reading 7:50
for months, the blood that's dripping
down inside us, whether bruise
or blot, the way each coupling
feels more frantic than the one
before it. Something is rising.

I can see it. It's waiting to be
plucked from the water, dark
harvest of the reality we only
pretend to overlook. The other
day she wanted kumquats,
explained, "They're sour, sweet,
and bitter at the same time."

The difficult part is remembering
to let them linger on the tongue.
You have to wait for it. Too soon
and it's murder. Too late and you're
spending hours looking at a dead
fish. Melancholy means the space
between, staring at the moment.
I'm doing my best not to blink.
I remember writing these poems, but I didn't think they all came in the same month. The crazy thing is that I was doing a ton of writing in my Moleskine at the same time and doing a piece for Tikkun. It was a very productive time, strange as that may seem in retrospect.

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No longer in a relationship
with the meaning of is,
baby. Tragedy is always
a bait and switch. Updated,

anticipated. My profile
hides my lazy I while
yours mixes metaphors
under London Bridge.

Which? Boys are dying
for the tingle of salt
on their tongues. You
heard me right. The

word wasn't what it was
when I circled the windy
lake, sand hilling up
like a documentary
about the Dust Bowl.

Face the music, darling,
you're an open book
when the flame turns
your thin milk to bone.

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Muse: 5-4=Unity - Pavement - Crooked Rain Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins

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No, I do not know
what I am talking
about. Nor want
to. Get it? Tips
from a satellite
are great if you
fear getting lost.
But I'd rather
find my way
where there isn't
one, my words
keen to cut through
thickets of ignorance.
There's always more
to do. The trail
only lasts as long
as you walk it.

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Yesterday I drew a line on my thigh, permanent
marker, as if I were making sure not to remove
the wrong part. The picture of a surgeon, bent
on perfection, with a little too much to prove.

"The body has a hard time when it's like
this. The weather won't hold still." I hear
your longing. I keep checking the temperature
myself. Not that it helps. You can't make

words fit the world. It's why we need art,
to let out the seams, give us room to move.
Psychology is a bitch. Some things are there;
some aren't. We can't know what we're leant

and what we get to keep. It's time to take
stock. Every decision cuts deep. Read Sartre.

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I turn my ear
away from your
heat, searching.

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PROFILE
Charlie Bertsch
User: cbertsch
Name: Charlie Bertsch
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ABOUT DE FILE
You're looking at content from my Live Journal, which I have been keeping since 2003. I consider it a personal blog, though it lacks stream-of-consciousness revelations that typify that genre.

That said, if you manage to discern the confessional mode within entries that are superficially tight-lipped, I will reward you handsomely. Or at least pretend to do so.

In addition to reflections, however mediated, on my daily activities, De File features periodic excavations of material from my "files," a revelation sure to disturb anyone who has seen my garage. It's an experiment in integrating past and present, perhaps with a little redemption along the way.

Politics is always on my mind, but rarely explicit here. I’m working on a theory about what personal writing like this does to literary identification and why some people resist its pull so powerfully. But my goal is to make that theory dissolve in my practice, a density in liquid.

You'll note that I have links to blogs not on LiveJournal directly above, as well as assorted websites of note. The blogs I read regularly on LiveJournal itself fall under "FRIENDS" at the top, for those of you unfamiliar with LJ’s workings.

You can write me. I'm "cbertsch" before the circle-a and "comcast.net" after it.
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