NOº 5759

Misfit Pilgrimage: Vegas


Leaving Las Vegas…

My first inclination toward Vegas is to call it what it is: lowest common denominator sensualism. Excessive. Gross. Way, way too crowded. Way too smoky. Way too expensive, bright, loud. Oversexed, obsessive. Mindless and meat-headed.

My second inclination is to leave it at that and never go back there. And I probably won’t go back. But I’m glad I went the once.

I went there to reconnect with old friends, and that alone made enduring the excess worth it. As a man of a certain age, one who’s settled hundreds of miles away from his boyhood stomping grounds, the opportunities for concentrated catch-up time with chums from schooldays are few(er) and far(ther) between.

I’m also an American. And a writer. I like to think about our foibles. And our marvels. And I like to think in metaphors.

The thing to remember — maybe even the takeaway — about Las Vegas is that it’s set in the desert. Not just any desert but a rocky and austere moonscape. Drive just a few miles out into it — away from the neon technicolor blare — and thoughts turn to other sorts of marvels. How does that bush, that hummingbird survive here? Yes, the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead — plus, of course, the trompe l’oeil Sin City they’ve made possible — are true marvels of human imagination, invention, ingenuity…but how on this stark and dusty red rock did ancient humans survive and thrive here? Yet they did. With nary a casino in sight.

I believe in God, which means I believe in One Soul. I believe it’s complicated. I believe I don’t understand it, and I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to understand it. Paradox and inconsistency — what we might be inclined to call chaos; what we might label as one form of excess or another (sensuality | austerity), the needle lurching awkwardly toward either end of that strange continuum; what drives us forward, what reins us in…this continuous becoming and unfolding, doing and undoing, gain and loss, gathering, dispersal…

Vegas is an expression of that, full and concentrated. Unapologetically human. If not a celebration of our ambiguous, multifaceted Oneness then at least an opportunity to come face-to-face with it. Foibles. Marvels. Lush, dry. All of it. In all of us. Even — especially — if we don’t care to admit it.

NOº 5756

30 Things I Love Right Now: [05.10.15]

(1) Unlearning no. No can be useful. Don’t get me wrong. But usually it’s debilitating. Almost always, actually. | (2) A little dog called Marilyn. | (3) Pearl Jam. | (4) Cut grass. | (5) Goya products. | (6) Which is to say: Adobo… (7) Sofrito… (8) Sazon (a unique seasoning) con Azafran… (9) Sazon (a unique seasoning) con Culantro y Achiote… | (10) Which is to say: ghosts. Culinary ones. But all kinds. | (11) Which is to say J–, medium, necromancer, exorcist, and etc. | (12) The fact that it is much easier to move me to tears now.  | (13) How May 2015 has somehow become this trip into the Underworld. Shades of the past. Wherein I get right and get ready to move on. | (14) This dream I had, of my dad, where I walked with him into the Appalachian mountains, my favorite place on earth (really) and all we did was talk about how beautiful everything was. (Okay. Yes. I’m crying right now.) | (15) Talking to people I’ve dreamed up, people I can imagine being real. | (16) Stew beans. | (17) Fried pork chops. But I mean, fried. Like submerged in angry oil. | (18) Plantains. | (19) Abundant starches. | (20) Filling your (my, her, his, our?) belly. | (21) How all good food is peasant food and how everybody knows that and how it’s always been true and it always will be. The mouth and the stomach (and etc.) are two places that connect us to everything that lives. How…well, right: how “all of that” works, how it animates us. | (22) Astral Weeks. On a Sunday afternoon. | (23) I said cut grass, right? But. I really like it. (I like it having been done. Will you cut my grass? Please?) | (24) This bittersweet season. Any teacher knows what I mean: light at the end of the tunnel, long goodbye. | (25) My mother. Who I choose to believe is animating this particular bittersweet season, in order to facilitate #13 above. Because she loves me and (still, always) knows exactly what I need. Now she’s just, you know, putting her thumb on the scale. | (26) “Daughter.” | (27) A Bolognese simmering on the stove. | (28) Sunlight. | (29) Silence. | (30) My sisters.

NOº 5753

Thirteen Words: [05.07.15]

He cut supremes, dreamed this succulent flesh tracing the sweet woman’s dry lips.

NOº 5750

30 Things I Love Right Now: [05.04.15]

(1) My warrior girlfriend. | (2) Mid-spring in Alabama. | (3) Poetry. | (4) Fiction. | (5) Interstellar, which is actually a good movie. | (6) Risk. | (7) Makeshift cioppino. | (8) Anthony Bourdain. | (9) Television. | (10) Acupuncture. | (11) Jason Slatton. | (12) Ben Gunsberg. | (13) Stuart Flynn. | (14) Don Gilliland. | (15) Mark Neely. | (16) Eddie Watson. | (17) John Malatino. | (18) Mike Hamilton. | (19) Se Chung. | (20) Rob Waller. | (21) Athansios Demetrios Gadonas. | (22) Robin Heilig. | (23) Okello Dunkley. | (24) Frank Talbert. | (25) Which is to say (#17 – #24): the Nerd Herd. | (26) Also surreptitious late 20th Century soccer girls: nee Hellmuths and Hales and etc. | (27) Which is to say (#1 – #26): my people. | (28) Which is to say: nostalgia and beauty and that which is inherently famil(y)iar. | (29) Which is to say: Hope and Faith and, which is mostly — only — to say, (30) Love.

NOº 5745

Thirteen Words: [04.30.15]

Our way was to dive, deep. Then the tensile surface language revealed itself.

NOº 5741

101-Word Review: ‘Dirty Bomb’ by Mark Neely

Dirty BombDirty Bomb by Mark Neely

My rating: 5 of 5 stars. So sometimes you know the poet. Sometimes you’ve known the poet for a long time, and you know where the bodies are buried. More or less. I know Mark Neely. I’ve known him a long time. I’ve eaten his chili. I’ve stared into the guileless eyes of the beautiful dog he named after Walt Whitman. And I’ve read his two books of poems. The first I loved. Not only (but not least) because I knew where the bodies were buried. This one I love because he’s made the daring leap the first book promised. From consummate craftsman to essential, necessary voice.

NOº 5738

30 Things I Love Right Now: [04.27.15]

(1) Beets. | (2) Beet greens. | (3) Baccalow. | (4) Chayote. | (5) Yucca. | (6) Plantains. | (7) Poetry collections by guys named Mark/Marc: Dirty Bomb by Mark Neely and Bewilderness by Marc McKee. | (8) Typing standing up. | (9) Saturdays. | (10) Sundays. | (11) J—‘s family pictures. | (12) Mad Men. | (13) Lemon balm. | (14) Valerian. | (15) Scones and coffee on Sunday morning. | (16) The honeysuckle on the fence. | (17) J— in the backyard, in the magic-hour afternoon sunlight. | (18) My purple pen. | (19) Kind bars, especially the ones with sea salt in them. | (20) Instant oatmeal (with extra fiber!). | (21) Praying. | (22) Eating better. | (23) Drinking water. | (24) Stolen moments of meditation. | (25) Tea on Wednesdays after work. | (26) Reading poetry. | (27) Washing dishes by hand. | (28) How 26 and 27 can also be 24. | (29) Fungee. | (30) Exercise. With J—.

NOº 5732

Thirteen Words: [04.23.15]


Moons went out of fashion in 1969. Now she can’t fathom pale light.

NOº 5729

101-Word Review: ‘Bewilderness’ by Marc McKee

BewildernessBewilderness by Marc McKee

My rating: 5 of 5 stars. When you buy Marc McKee’s Bewilderness — and you will want to — get him to sign it for you. Ever the craftsman/draftsman, he doesn’t just line out his name on the title page. It’s a cool array of clever doodles, and the dedication+signature is seamlessly integrated into this elegant design. Thus the page becomes a one-of-a-kind multimedia artform. Fitting, this, because elegant design is the underlying principle of these poems: poem to poem, line by line, each and every syllable. Alliteration abounds, unabashed! (“Even God got got…”) Best of all, in all that clever doodling, there’s heart. Big and bloody and beating.

NOº 5725

30 Things I Love Right Now: [04.20.15]

The Seven-Year Itch. Portal to another time and place. | (2) Luther. (The BBC One show, not the original Lutheran, though I suspect there’s a loose but semi-intentional connection between the two. At least I wouldn’t put that sort of allusion past a team of Brits. They’re always thinking, them Brits. Even the TV types.) Portal to another place if not another time. | (3) How one of the many features of love relationships in the contemporary Western world is a blended pop culture provenance. | (4) Cooking with someone, another of the aforementioned features. | (5) A warm bath with Epsom salts. | (6) Nature: all its forms and drives and healing properties. | (7) Having not given up on love relationships in the contemporary Western world. | (8) Capsaicin. (Which is to say: inside jokes.) | (9) Lists. Still, always, and of course. | (10) Springtime sun in Alabama. Especially in the morning but also in the late afternoon. | (11) My new lunch containers. | (12) A clean kitchen. | (13) Putting things in order. | (14) Hootsuite. | (15) Writing in the morning. | (16) Windows open in the morning. | (17) Listening to the birds in the morning. | (18) My framed photo of the Willie Mays catch, artifact of what seems impossible but is not impossible. | (19) The Myth of Freedom. | (20) The Millionaire Mind, which oddly (or not so oddly) echoes Howard Gardner’s Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Also how it describes my friend John M to a tee. (The “M” is for millionaire. Sort of. It’s also for Malatino.) | (21) Ben’s poem, “Rhapsody for Children of the Midwest.” Tour de force. | (22) The ‘Nuts and Seeds’ Clif Bar. | (23) A fridge full of tasty food, already prepared and ready to eat. | (24) Walking meditation. (Still.) | (25) Tomorrow Is My Turn by Rhiannon Giddens. | (26) Feeling like today is my turn. | (27) Sunlight on the stairs. | (28) Having gone to AWP. | (29) Not being at AWP anymore. (30) Surrender. Open arms and heart.