30 December, 2011

It Breaks the Heart

I talk local politics
over beer at the bar.
Issues so important.
Issues not so important.
Issues that never change.

You, at home.
Living your life
in my absence.
Issues so important.
Issues that never change.

I come home.
You are on the phone,
laughing the way you did –
(do you remember?)
– that way you laughed
once upon a time
                              with me:

spring days by the river,
summers at the spillway.
Kites flying around us
bits of laughter
caught in the wind.

It breaks the heart.
So much silence.
So much lost.

So much.
                Not enough.

You hang up the phone,
and the laughter stops.
I mention my conversation.
You nod out of habit
and ask, nonchalantly,
if I'm drunk.

I can not answer
because all the air
has left my lungs.
I can not breathe
without your air,
filling me.

26 December, 2011

Buk Notes: John Fante

It's not necessary to read John Fante in order to understand what Bukowski was shooting for; one of the nice things about Buk is that even if you don't really get it – and most people don't – there's still something to enjoy. Readers of Bukowski who dream of being writers have tried – without success – to repeat what he did; generally, they begin with the notion, not without reason, that in order to write like Bukowski one has to live like Bukowski. The first mistake comes, however, in thinking that any form of emulation is the same as art. The second mistake is in looking at his body of work and seeing only “a drinker with a writing problem” as a writerly friend of mine once proclaimed him to be.

Although he openly balks at influence in his later work, Charles Bukowski does give one writer credit. And no, it wasn't Hemingway. And no it wasn't any of the Beats, with whom Bukowski is often mistakenly categorized. The writer that he credits the most – beyond the French writer Céline – is John Fante.

Fante is the author of Ask the Dust, Dago Red, West of Rome, The Road to Los Angeles, Brotherhood of the Grape, and others. In the Black Sparrow edition of Ask the Dust, there's a short preface by – you guessed, Charles Bukowski – in which he claims that Fante's work was the only work he found in the library that seemed like it was written for him.  Fante wrote about growing up in a poor blue collar family in Colorado, about being Italian-American, about being Catholic, about being a writer, about being a writer and selling out to write movies, about his troubles at home, about his combative relationship with his children (including the writer Dan Fante), and about his own feelings of inadequacy. Fante was one more in a slew of West Coast writers – that include Nathanael West and John Steinbeck – who had trouble making it in the East Coast / New Yorker style controlled world of literary publishing.

When you read Fante, you begin to hear the echo that drew Bukowski in and that echoed in his work as well. As a matter of fact, you hear the same thing when you read Céline, or Steinbeck, for that matter, though they are as stylistically removed from Fante and Bukowski as Mahler is from Metallica. You see more of Buk's style in Fante – but of course, it's not the same, either, any more than Hemingway wrote like Sherwood Anderson. Fante's sense of hyper-drama is different from Bukowski. With Bukowski, the tone is more acerbic, and even at his raunchiest, more judgmental. Fante's hyper-drama is comically inflated:

So it happened at last: I was about to become a thief, a cheap milk-stealer. Here was your flash-in-the-pan genius, your one-story-writer: a thief. I held my head in my hands and rocked back and forth. Mother of God. Headlines in the papers, promising writer caught stealing milk, famous protégé of J.C. Hackmuth haled into court on petty thief charge, reporters swarming around me, flashlights popping, give us a statement.”

Ask the Dust is about getting published... the hunger, the failure, and even in face of potential success, the inevitable failure. Fante's world is one in which there is always moral balance: something good must be accompanied with something bad. The protagonist, Arturo Bandini, is a young writer living on nothing but good will and stolen oranges in Depression-Era downtown LA. His one credit is a short story, “The Little Dog Laughed” published in a magazine edited by J.C. Hackmuth, his literary hero. He carries copies of the magazine around, passing autographed copies to people who aren't really impressed. And as if the comic hubris and ego-crushing wasn't enough, Bandini then meets Camilla, a waitress, and falls in love with her. But she's in love with the bartender Sam, and Sam despises her. The only way Bandini will win Camilla over, Sam tells him, is to treat her badly.

The book is poignant in it's descriptions day to day living, love and loss and failure, Catholic guilt, and the self-doubt every writer experiences. Camilla is impressed with him at first, but only comes around when he's abusive. She spends time in an asylum, goes back and for the between Arturo and Sam. She ends up throwing Bandini over for Sam, who wants to be a writer – he writes westerns – and who is also dying of cancer. Bandini ends up dedicating a copy of his book – which he finally writes and is finally published by J.C. Hackmuth – to Camilla and throwing into the desert.

In the messy business that fiction writing has become – or maybe, that it's always been – there's always been the question as to whether what a writer writes in fiction bears any resemblance to real life. And with a pop culture that has both hyper-reality television and fantasy laden tomes, both of which serve as escape hatches rather than magnifying glasses of contemporary life, there's even more suspicion of writers who want to write something real. Fante was roundly criticized for this in his non-screenplay work. Bukowski was critisized for it too, though mostly by academic critics who didn't acknowledge anything after the Modernists.

The art in Bukowski is something you have to read with a knowing eye to catch. He had no intention of pointing it out, because he believed (I think correctly) that it wasn't his job to spoon feed infantile readers.

The art in Fante is a lot like that. It's easy to dismiss it as masked autobiography, or – the gods help us all – “creative non-fiction” (the bane of literary trends over the past 20 years). The point isn't whether the story is about a struggling young writer or a struggling young wizard. Literature isn't meant to be an escape... though it often can be. Literature – especially fiction – is a lens that brings life into hyper-focus. Fante accomplishes this in a grand tradition that he picked up from writers like Knut Hamsun, and which can also be seen in Eurpoean writers like French writer Céline, Italian writer Curzio Malaparte, and German writer Günter Grass. For that matter, the mantle was also picked up by writers like Stephen Crane and Nelson Algren. And maybe part of the true art is that while most readers look at Fante and see a Catholic writing about Catholic guilt – and at Bukowski and see a drunk writing about drinking – there's something else happening that you only see if you bother to pay attention.

[This was written, primarily to continue a discussion that Kaplowitz and I have had on Grindbone Radio, as well as off air. I also wrote it because, well, I wanted to add my thoughts to his well written piece here.]

23 December, 2011

Two Short Seasonal Poems and An Unrelated Bit


December early morning sunshine
it fools me into believing
the earth is warm. But one step
outdoors and the cold wind
rippling my bearded cheeks reminds me
the tree limbs aren't bare
for no reason. Christ, I think
why can't they stick to
warm weather holidays?


This season of fat men with a penchant
for breaking and entering leaves me
odd, at the bottom of empty scotch bottle
searching the chair cushions for loose change
to put towards a pack of smokes or a cheap 40
that will help me stay warm. Winter has a way
of seeping into my bones; and it will not depart
no matter what prayers and hymns I sing.


Souls, like old wool socks, wear thin at the points of heaviest wear.
The difference is, you can always buy a new pair of socks.

22 December, 2011

One Man's Hyde / Another Man's Savior

The monster awoke this morning:
broke loose from the cage
and is wandering the streets
of some anonymous small town
in Northwest Illinois.

And I will not chase him down again.
He and I and the world are all better
when he is not knocked out, stowed away,
forgotten in some dark corner of my Id
left to languish in some gray dream.

You cannot starve / what does not survive / on bread alone.

He greeted me in the mirror, wild haired
monstrously bushy eyebrows, deep set unrelenting eyes,
the face of someone who might appear familiar
if anyone has been paying any attention
at all. Have you been paying attention? At all?

You've all gone and done it, he says. / Waited one day too many / and now, and now

and now...

It's the anticipation that makes him pause
because he knows, lumbering the street,
looking oddly like a baboon on the hunt,
he will attract stares, and gasps,
and he will, undoubtedly, offend some
old farmer's wife or another

who does not understand there is more
to man than the collected hours he works
and whittles and the little bit he dies
each and every day. And some farmer
or another will be offended, too – because
they will never know the freedom

of walking through the world
without carrying the fear
that someone, somewhere
has found the secret to happiness
without waiting on god, on grace,
or on some nicely written obituary
outlining the predetermined brevity
of his long laborious days.

It's the anticipation that draws him out
and into the street – coming soon
to a store front, coffee shop, bar, or street corner near you.
He carries doom in one pocket / salvation in another
and you will not know
which he might be inclined to share
until you look him in the eye
and show him the the glimmering seat
of your soul, share the warmth of your heart
and accept without question –

even though you might find his grin
just a tad disconcerting.
One Man's Hyde / Another Man's Savior by Mick Parsons

19 December, 2011

Straight Off The Wire

1stcup of java (early in the A.M):

the city budget's busted
the streets are full of pot holes,
the water tastes like rust and
and insecticide. Everyone blames the mayor.
The state is behind on its bills. But no one
will turn their water off
if they don't pay. Oh yeah, and fuck the poor.
They don't need water anyway.

2ndcup of java / first smoke of the day:

the county's controlled by a dictator
with a bigger Napoleon complex
than Kim Jong Il. God Save the Chairman.
Long Live the Chairman. There's no money
for veterans. Plenty for lowering tax rates
on rich lake side property. Oh yeah, and
fuck the renters. They're just white trash.

3rd cup of java / first shot of bourbon

It's too cold to go fishing. Too hot
to build a snow man. No money
to pay city workers overtime
 if we get a white Christmas.
Fuck Santa Claus. He was laid off
and is now wanted for a string of burglaries.
He should've had the stamina
to make it on his own at the North Pole
rather than illegally crossing the border. And
for all we know, he's a terrorist, since
he never files a flight plan.

Ain't It Grand, These Culture Wars?

There's no subtlety to any of it.
Grand circle jerk symmetry
internet artists (not) extraordinaire.

It's all too easy.

Buy into the myth wholesale.
Pretend, for moment, maybe two,
maybe thirty, that you're running
a pirate radio, pushing out
incendiary prose the way they used to
“back in the day” when
all our giants were still alive.

There are no more 3 AM saints,
standing over mimeograph machines,
living in the basement with
an abandoned AB Dick printing press
typesetting and publishing words
sacred enough to offend your grandmother.

But please. buy into the myth.
It helps pass the days. Days spent
whiling away in some institution
or another... proprietary pretense
awkward hipster princesses
read a few lines of Kerouac
and learn to drink like
(you think) Bukowski did
and a few young girls
will think you're a true original
because they've never seen
anything like you on Jersey Shore.

It's all too easy. / Scratch that.

It's all too hard. And you make it harder.
And not in that good way
you think Bukowski meant
when he wrote about whores.

It's too damn hard.
And you make it harder.
Because you think
drinking the right cheap beer
and wearing the right retro clothes
have anything to do
with anything. Schtick will
get you laid. But it won't
make you into the giant
you tell yourself you are
in your day job
where the boss
never seems to call you
by your real name.

08 December, 2011

Tuesday / Truck Day / Spreading The News

The sun is dead fish's eye buried under a cloudy sky
the color of poisoned water. On a road twisting through
several of several hundred thousand forgettable towns,
I am in awe of the optimism of children waiting for snow
and believing in Santa Claus; they are roaming in groups
along broken up pieces of sidewalk and gravel side streets.
In another life, I imagine I am a lip reader and as I drive by,
I try to find out what they are saying –

it may make a difference later.

The farmers say this winter will be worse than the last two;
but farmers are cynics and have grown used to complaining
about things they have no control over. They will prepare
and they will pray, and they will watch the price of corn
and soy. I have nothing to offer them –
not even the secrets their children discuss
while they're cutting school and imagining for a moment
that they're really getting away with something.

When I step down from the cab of the truck
I can feel the ground freezing through the soles
of my shoes; the next snow will stick,
I think. Walk into a gas station, trying to ignore
the soreness of my feet that give me
preternatural age. There's a line
and the woman behind the counter is busy flirting
with the boy in front her who is clearly trying
to buy cigarettes without identification –

in spite of all the commercials that echo in my head
I hope he succeeds. In the back of the line,
there is a young woman crying. No one is paying attention.
All women look like little girls when they cry
and they all remind me of my daughter.
I can only allow myself to cry when I'm drunk;
at least then, no one will think it's genuine. Leaving town

a black cat crosses my path. And I am a little surprised
that I find it comforting.

03 December, 2011

Untitled 12/1/11*

We are erasing ourselves from the ground up.
Libraries fall into decline (Echoes of Alexandria)
are sold and converted into five star no-tell motels
for the discerning Wall Street executive who wants
to treat his mistress with a touch of class (Clean Sheets!)

Art auctions and book burnings and botox infused architecture
to appease upper echelon donors with deep pockets
and a penchant for self-aggrandizing and culture wide immolation.
The post-modern critics who have been prophesying
culture decay for years from high atop ivory towers

ensconced in institutions long bereft of education,
smiling and satisfied, fat cat content,
not yet acknowledging the first dry panic
lumped in the back of their throats –

any good prophet will tell you being right
only puts you out of a job in the long run.

Meanwhile in the Big Empty,artists hide in small towns,
dawdle in coffee shops, seek companions with above average
vocabularies to trade stories about the high times
when it was still possible to be an artist in America.

Farms feed lazy cows genetically modified grain,
slaughter and cut them into over-priced steaks
for a genetically modified consumer base.
We are out in the world, seeking picturesque back drops
to sit in front of and wait to die –

or for the rapture. Whichever comes first.

*written in response to an article in The Nation about the wholesale desecration of the New York Public Library system

02 December, 2011


Law of Entropy dictates
in order for something
to be born, some 
other thing, first,
must die.

Process as natural as grass grows.
Process as natural as dying.

Scientists theorize time stops
at the event horizon; that we will hover
at the edge of the super nova suspended
time space but still, in reality

The universe is not silent
but resonates a song
the effect of gravity
and of time
and of space.


All things, I am told, end up one thing –
ashes, dust, vacuum, song.
At the center of the galaxy, there is a black hole
and we are dancing on the edge
of the event horizon.

We will never know
if we ever really arrive.