31 January, 2020

Domestic Projects: The Abandoned Garden

Besides cleaning toilets, yard work is my least favorite thing to do, mostly because yard work, like cleaning toilets, is a never ending job. Grass is a pernicious weed that always needs mowing and is good for next to nothing. But if you don't keep the grass manicured, then neighbors complain and municipalities get involved.  I have one neighbor who mows maybe twice a season; the neighbor on the other side mows twice a day.

The truth is, I'm not a good homeowner. I'm just
not. manicuring lawns that serve no purpose other than giving me something to do and judge my manhood by hold no interest for me. It's not for the lack of trying. The futility of it drives me crazy. It's reflective of the futility of middle class pretensions, the futility of the so-called American Dream, the futility of living a life defined by a collective notion of success that's convinced us we're exchanging time in our "working years" for a well-earned "rest" when our working days are done. It's chasing a commercial... a manicured, curated, and fabricated lie.

Lately, I'm starting to think there may be art in maintaining a relationship with the space where you live. As it happens, I've wandered into home ownership. Amanda and I have had fairly successful vegetable gardens in the past and we are going to take a run at it again this year.  I keep thinking, though, that there has to be more I can do with the bit of space I've been given stewardship over besides the bare minimum to keep the city off my back.

So I've decided to create a garden. A real one. But since I don't have piles and piles of disposable income around, I've got to do it on the cheap. 

I'm calling it The Abandoned Garden.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to posting sketches... probably not good ones, since I can't draw for shit... of my initial plans. My goal is to use materials we have on hand, things we can trade for, and materials that are other people's leftovers, or things that are found or abandoned.  My goal is a garden... and a yard... that is both beautiful AND functional -- and something representational of the life Amanda and I are building together.

The core of The Abandoned Garden project:

  • a simple but well planned vegetable and herb garden;
  • a rain garden along left fence;
  • small red clover instead of grass; and
  • a demarcated stone path.

We're also going to be tearing down the shed, which is barely a shed at this point, anyway.

I hope you keep reading and follow the journey. I'm starting with very little knowledge of the process, but I'm a good researcher and not afraid of work I care about. 

Poetry is found in all kinds places, in all kinds of forms. I hope you'll come along as we work to compose this one.

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17 January, 2020

from Louisville: Another city on the make


There's a coffee shop walking distance from the shelter. These days I haunt coffee shops like I used to haunt bars. I went to Freddie's on Broadway because it was a cheap, cash only dive bar that asked no questions and only required people not to offend the general atmosphere. That place was also a wonderful archive of all things masculine from the 20th Century: hand drawn wrestling posters, beer steins, collector booze bottles from the 1970's, I hung out at Rubbie's because it's a neighborhood bar close to home, the happy hour prices are good, and the well bourbon was tolerably good. That bar was also a good bell weather for the last Presidential election.

Angry white men
trying to hold back
a changing world
like they grip their beer

Now I rotate between a handful of coffee shops in the city. When I'm scribing for pay or working on my own words, I go to noisy coffee shops, like the one close to where I live, or the one close to the shelter. When I'm meeting people, I go to one of two Heine Bros. On Bardstown Road because the white noise doesn't distract my ears from conversation. When I want to hang out and read, or talk to people who have also either stepped off or were pushed off the wide path , I go to Highland Coffee. They each have a thing I like better there than any other coffee shop. Heine Bros serves a turmeric chai with black pepper I really like. Highland has a nice selection of herbal teas and makes a cup of coffee. Sunergos, in my neighborhood, has the best cappuccino in the city and serves delicious cheddar chive drop biscuits that make for a good lunch.

Pockets of warmth
in an increasingly chilly cityscape
regardless of the season
regardless of the temperature.

Please & Thank You on Market and Shelby is a short walk from the shelter. They have wonderful herbal teas and the best blueberry lemon muffins in the city. I go there to scribe or to work, and to eat a muffin after I finish my short shift in the shelter coffee room. Lately I've run into K, a woman I met when I volunteered with one of the local homeless outreach organizations. She's usually sitting out front, a few steps off to the side away from the corner. When I can afford to, I get her a cup of coffee. Sometimes she's flying a sign. Sometimes she's waiting for her boyfriend J, who is always either off trying to find work, off trying to do some good deed that will, when he tells the story, never be repaid in kind. J has a demon in his gut like I do. When I see her I ask whether J has been drinking, so I know whether I'll see him or the demon. They are always in a state of emergency... being moved on, lost a tent, stuff stolen, scrambling to avoid snow, rain, cold, heat. Their home camp in Butchertown was bulldozed a few years ago to make room for a soccer stadium. The investors through money at the city to house the residents of Camp Campbell quickly for the good PR boost. Nearly all the former residents of Camp Campbell are no longer housed now. But there aren't any news cameras around to notice.

Erasure – delete a line
delete a camp
delete a person
a collateral damage
for the marketing collateral

Part 1 posted on Instagram. Check it out!

13 January, 2020

“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”*

I had recent conversation about higher education and my thoughts on returning to the classroom, and while digging through some old files (looking for something else) I found this word collage. Names have been changed, and I apologize to the family of A.A. Milne and the creators of The Flintstones.


"During this review period (... one calendar year [January 1, 2008- December 31, 2008]...) your TEACHING SCORES -- RANGING FROM 1.17 TO 1.37 AND AVERAGING AN OVERALL 1.25 -- ARE BETTER THAN THE DEPARTMENTAL MEAN FOR BOTH YOUR RANK AND THE LEVEL OF CLASSES YOU TAUGHT. Students comment on your entertaining style and your pedagogy. "
Your annual performance evaluation for this year is as follows:
Teaching: 2
Service: 1
Professional Development: 1
Overall: 1.8
{NOTE:  3=Meritorious performance. 2= Satisfactory performance. 1 = Unsatisfactory performance}

"Your self-evaluation with no supplemental materials offers little evidence of service contributions and no evidence of professional development..."


{NOTE: ON COURSE EVALUATONS, the lower the number the better. So a 1 = to an 'A'}

To: The Grand Pooh-Bah
Sent: Wed Mar 04 07:37:20 2009
Subject: Meeting to Discuss Annual Review
I am sending my annual review back signed, via campus mail, and I have saved a copy for my records. However, as you will notice, I would like to discuss it in more detail sometime soon. My score for Service does not reflect my contributions on the Steering Committee THIS academic year – which I did mention (and I thought, at some length) in my self-evaluation. Also, as with my evaluation last year, I am at a loss as to what I can do about Professional Development, as most of the opportunities that might apply are either not conducive to my schedule or too expensive.
Moreover, I am still left with the impression that being a good instructor means little or nothing… which seems ironic to me, since that’s what I was hired to do.
I am on campus on MWF and I teach from 7:30-12:40.  Is there a time soon that we could sit down and chat?


_X_ I will schedule an interview to discuss this review.
__ I will not schedule an interview to discuss this review.

From: The Grand Pooh-Bah
Sent: Wed 3/4/2009 10:29 AM
Cc: Pooh-Bah No. 2
Subject: Re: Meeting to Discuss Annual Review
Main Office staff makes my appointments.
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

* Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

10 January, 2020

"Give me things that don't get lost*" (Why retirement is a myth)

I never really noticed Dad's age, even when he got sick. He still went to work. He still attended Cincinnati Bengals home games. He was still both deeply loving and sometimes deeply intractable. There were lines that should not, could not, would not (not on his watch) be crossed. My brother and I both knew what those lines were without being told. But he loved my mother with a tenderness that could sometimes be embarrassing for little boys and he was never afraid to tell us he loved us to demonstrate his love, sometimes in generous and sometimes in terrifying proportions.

As far as I was concerned my old man was God's Hammer, and just as immortal. He wasn't afraid of anyone and didn't kowtow to anybody.  I watched him stand resolute against church elders who questioned his faith and against family members who disagreed with my mom going to college instead of staying home. He wasn't progressive, but he was pragmatic... almost to a fault.

When he and my mom talked about him retiring early after my brother and I were both out of high school, I didn't question it. Dad had always love Florida and them talking about moving there made sense. Mom would retire from teaching early and they'd go spend their days on the white sand beaches around St. Petersburg.

He'd already taken up cooking. He was learning photography. He was endlessly curious, endlessly forward thinking in his unsentimental and pragmatic way. He was an early adopter of most things technological and never once expressed nostalgia for "the good old days." My old man was a man of his time and his place and he always seemed just fine with that. He wasn't what you might think of when conjuring up an image of someone living in Zen…. as a matter of fact, he would have vociferously argued why he wasn't -- but he was the only person I knew who seemed to know his place and know what he wanted. He'd traveled enough to know.

He wanted the Florida sun and my mom and to see his sons make their way in the world -- which made him endlessly critical of both of us, though in very different ways. He wanted for us what he didn't have and hadn't achieved, though it took me a long time to understand that.

Experiencing my father's death taught me that certain "facts" I'd taken for granted during the whole of my very inexperienced 17 years were wrong, because my dad did everything right. He worked. He made plans. He had his somedays all lined up.  Seeing God's Hammer dead nearly killed God for me and it made me question the point of having somedays. By the time I graduated high school, I'd already stopped planning anything. There wasn't a someday. There was now. And now. And now.

I'm turning 47 next month and whatever anger I've wielded against God and the universe has become something else.  No matter what anyone tells you, that demon in the belly never really goes away. But it has taught me how to counter the fear I was raised embrace. Dad would maybe put it different. I don't think he wanted his sons to be afraid of the world, but maybe to be wiser walking through it. 

But I'm a slow learner. 

The one thing I know, and know for sure, is that somedays don't mean anything. I want to live now, in this moment. It took me more than 20 years to find the love of my life and while I could wait to live fully when we're retired, the fact is I don't want to waste time. When the hour glass runs out on this life, it runs out. And yes, I have faith that something passes on after we ditch this skin suit, but I refuse to let anyone use that against me by telling me it's a someday. My most fervent hope is that whatever of me survives after death will melt into everything else. 

And when that happens, I want to take the fullness of a life lived with me to share.... much in the same way I share it now.

*Neil Young

03 January, 2020

I am what I am -- dirtysacred

on the dotted line
My given name is Michael, which means (ever so humbly) One who is like God.  But I've always gone by Mickey or, as I got older, Mick. I distinctly remember having to learn to spell both my names; I grew up not liking my "formal name." It felt like a thing separate from me;  it was someone else's name. I learned to sign it on official documents, but it never felt like my signature. I tolerated (barely) a string of doctors that tried to be my buddy by calling me Mike : a name I grew to dislike even more than my "formal" one.

There was one aspect of my dual nomenclature that appealed to me: it gave me a dual identity, a notion that set my already colorful and widely wandering imagination on fire.  Being the super hero aficionado I was,  my shared status with the whole cast of characters that helped forge my imagination: Spiderman. Superman. The Incredible Hulk. Dual identities. Spies had them, too. This was how heroes walked through the world like regular people.

Mrs. Gallagher, my high school Spanish teacher, told the class that each of us had to chose a Spanish name to be called as part of language immersion. Most people took the Spanish version of their name.  The Spanish version of my name, Miguel, didn't seem right.  Another name popped into my head; I'm not even sure where it came from, though probably from some western or another: Diego. That had flash. That had adventure. A bit of swashbuckling bluster, even. When I told her I wanted to be Diego, she seemed pleased that I took a different name. Then she told me the American version of my Spanish name was James.

I thought of this later when I chose James the Greater  (the patron saint of pilgrims) as my patron saint when I was confirmed in the Catholic Church at 44 years of age.

When my dad died I got a little obsessed with the notion of names, naming, and generations. I've always been told I'm either a "chip off the old block" or a throwback to my Grandpa Parsons ... Daniel Boone Parsons, the Boone being his own addition because he believed that successful people had three names. He was also something of a fan of Daniel Boone stories, being a voracious reader.  I saw my name... Parsons... as the only connection I had left to Dad and I embodied it as best I could.

After my first marriage fell apart, my name was a burden. I felt like I let down my father's memory. And so I found another name for a while: Quill. This name, like my formal and birth names, was given to me by another. And I wore it, too, like another identity.  It allowed me to  untangle some of the other parts of my personality, some of them darker. Free of the weight of the godlike man I'd built my father up to be, I was free to be, at last a man of my own reckoning. 

And eventually that too became a burden. One day it fit; the next day it didn't. 

Maybe it was somewhere around this time that I started to think of names as something besides A Thing Designated and Bestowed.  A name could be something representative of a particular time and place in a person's life. I was Michael when I signed official documents. Michael was married. Michael was divorced. Mick was still alive and writing. I was Mickey to my mother, Mick to my friends, and had been Quill to others.  I had one friend who called me, with great affection, Papa, after a long debate over Hemingway and Jane Austen. She sometimes still calls me that, and it suits me fine enough... from her.

After my 2nd marriage disintegrated, somewhere in my travels my journal, along with my ID and bus ticket, were stolen. It took some bit of engineering to get new copies of my ID, but the ticket and journal were gone forever. And to be honest, I was far more upset about the journal than I was my Illinois driver's license.  Michael had already been divorced. Again. And who was Mick? Did it matter? I took on a few names, just to try them out. Blu. Baleu. Ozymandias (after my favorite poem). I published chapbooks under those names.

We attach so much to a name. And in spite the widespread use of screen names dating back to the blue screen days of the early internet, it's still our  "formal" names that matter more. This is less about lineage, though, than it is debt. Our financial debts are tied to it and to our social security numbers. A woman can change her name when she marries by filling out a form; a man must go in front of a judge to declare he is not hiding from any debt or court paper. 

But these are interesting times; people change their names for any number of reasons. We are becoming much more openminded about people in the process of becoming.

And yet.  And yet. 

I recently tried to join a literary discussion online and was told I had to use my "real"  name.  When I  explained I would rather use the name I have come to think of more as mine... chosen and not bestowed... dirtysacred... the moderator messaged me and informed me that he "hated to disappoint" me but that he must insist, because of the true and deep nature of the discussion, that I use  my "real" name.

I didn't argue. But I did withdraw.  I wasn't sure how any deep literary discussion could happen when people aren't welcomed as they want to be. I still don't.  But I'm not the sort to make a stink where I'm not welcome as I am.

What is a name? My father feels no disrespect; he is gone and beyond getting offended.  And if I feel that I should choose a name that reflects my life as it is instead of how others would have it be, then that name should be enough. The encroaching nature of Facebook and the damned chains of debt meant to enslave us in this capitalistic republic would discourage me from taking a new name.

What is a name? A given name is a borrowed coat and a used pair of shoes we need to get started out the door; a chosen name is what we become from what we learn while we're kicking up dust.