One Night At Flobe’s Pizza Below Frye’s Apartment

Flobe’s Pizza below my friend Frye’s apartment one night last April was puzzlingly rowdy, so we climbed down to see what was up. The place was steaming, crowded, people sitting on the ceiling, hot cheese slipping, falling pepperoni pieces and mushrooms, while a string band fiddled. The open mic was live, with Pepper, Herb, and Fava’s trio in line on the sign-in sheet to perform Joe’s “Surf Surge.”

Frye and I occupied empty seats at the end of a rambunctious table in the corner, and Joe got in line to order some pizza and orange soda. The porthole sidewalk window next to our table was occluded with steam, the string band zipping, and a couple without a table was dancing, one with the pizza the other with the beer. Suddenly, Willa and Raymond took the stage with ukulele and tambourine.

They sang of an old photo of Joan Didion sitting in a Corvette, holding a cigarette. A young man riding a piebald pony rode up to the takeout bar and ordered a veggie pizza with extra garlic and sauce. His fed his pony a breadstick. Joe came with the orange soda and said the pizza was a forty-minute wait. He poured us each a glass from the pitcher, sparkling yellow, not as orange as we had expected.

Joe sat by the porthole orb. He saw flashing lights, paisley globes filled with silver and gold light. The bubbles flew like electrified parameciums escaping down the side of the window, along its tarnished curved brass edge. Big Dada announced Joe’s pizza would not be ready until September. By then no one would be reading poetry any longer than a tweet, and that before they realized what they were hearing.

By the time Joe’s name was called (“Pizza ready for Joe!”), he had grown a pony tail and Frye had gone bald. Pepper, Herb, and Fava were on tour somewhere in the Midwest. I had tired of waiting and moved back down to Southern California to be near the beach. Every day I ride my bicycle along the Strand, watching the surfers come and go without a thought for pizza or poetry.

On the Poem of Made and Unmade Beds

“Without grip or gripe, what bed thou hast, sleep in it, sleep, sleep, perchance to rest, for a sound bed is worth all the wine in France, all the beer in Germany, nay, all the ale in England.” (Polonius, The Collected Deleted Scenes of Shakespeare)

Introduction – the idea of the poem as an unmade bed:

Joe Linker on April 10, 2015 at 6:14 pm said
[in comment, having never heard of ‘My Bed’]:
But on the subject of Emin’s bed, which apparently last sold for $2.5 million, imagine a bed-selfie, and unmade at that, in such demand. But of course a made bed would never have fetched as much attention or money. People want to see unmade beds. In fairness, I suppose many poems are nothing more than unmade beds. But when did a poem, made or unmade, ever suck in $2.5 million in a single breath?
I may find myself later today attempting a bed poem.”

1: The Sonneteers

On the green barracks bunk,
a thin mattress on chain link
steel frame Army 30 foldable,
wrapped in ephemeral wool
as tight as a barnacle’s grip
against the red tide of sleep,
nothing personal save a letter
from Susan in the South Bay,
tossed into open foot locker,
touches the drab rolled socks,
no night light in the dull quiet
dark hall full of dunned boys,
roused by reveille’s mournful
made bed, hook up and wait.

2: The Makeshift Bed

“At Ease!
Thum that’s got ‘um, smoke ‘um.
In this next 30 minutes of instruction,
you will learn how to make a field bed.”

The sun crashed, and I climbed into the cab
of a deuce and a half, parked
in a field with a raw view
of the moon and the Pacific Ocean,
curled up in my fatigues
and fell asleep, my face to the canvas seat,
surrounded by coastal sage scrub
lit with a few Lord’s Candles.

3: The Water Bed

We drove down to Hermosa Beach and picked up one of the first
water beds, a giant surf mat. We took it home, put it on the floor
in the bedroom, and filled it with water from the garden hose
stuck through an open window. We went to sleep hushed
and soothed by one another’s jostle, canoeing over surf.
But early in the morning we awoke cold and colder.
The next day back at the water bed store, the guy told us,
“Yeah, you need a foam pad and a wood frame. If you sleep
on the bare mattress, you’ll wake up with hypothermia.”

4: The Money Bed

After the water bed experience,
whenever we needed a bed,
I made a frame out of 2×4’s,
upon which I nailed a sheet
of plywood, upon which we
plopped down the futon, a
bag of airy baffled cotton.

In bed, we are lodged in
one of two kinds of beds: one
easy to move, the other hard.
The hard ones cost much
more than the easy ones
and frequently must be
put asunder to move.

Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” now
takes several million dollars
to move, maybe so much
because the installers must
budge the bed without
disturbing the sleeper.
One might try making beds

for a living. People often seem
to prefer beds to poems.
Joyce sat in bed and wrote,
embedded in his spidery
notes and his family’s issues,
while McTeague’s Trina
slept solo on her bed of coins.

5: The Short-sheeted Bed

Some readers may feel
short-sheeted by this poem.
They probably would prefer
sleeping in their own bed
and writing their own poem.
Then again, someone may offer
forty winks for this poem.
Who will start the bidding?

The Lavish Land

“April is the cruelest month,” Eliot told
Pound all about it, Easter tide out,
but why brood on our days
unless we are made
of dry wood and worry,
each ring a memory of rain?
Does any month feel pity?

You called her a primrose,
your spiral spring shell.
The land tired of playing possum
opened in lavish blossom.
Meantime, you go from a funeral
to a game of chess?
No wonder you’re so depressed.

Hurry up! Indeed, it is time,
and there is no more time
for revisions of decisions and such.
Spit it out, that tooth that broke
on the hardtack bread.

Yes, the river, its currency
seems to bother you,
crossing the rough bar
in your tipsy canoe,
sipping sweet wine from a shoe.

Why do you drift so? Maybe
it’s time to seize the falling
yellow forsythia, catch and bundle
the candied pink camellia calling
a day a day alack-a-day day.

No, I won’t say we’re wasting time,
working up a dry thirst over an old city,
lamenting the past. We might have called
Big Dada and asked for a blessing,
a holy water sprinkling, and asked,
“Dada, how’s Nana?”
“Dada! Dada! Dada!”

Maybe we’ll see you in May.
Hopefully you’ll be feeling better,
and we can all spend a day
going a Maying,
if Corinna comes to town, everyone
looking forward to ordinary time,
the grassy bed spread with garlic greens.

Cherry Trees in City Park in Spring

031920152271It was such a perfect day in the park. You might have been reminded of the Lou Reed song “Perfect Day.” The cherry trees were drinking sangria:

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on

The second person is often tricky. “Who is you?” the cherry trees sang above the fresh open water of the reservoir.

“And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9 KJV). But the world will likely not end with a moral but with a song of thirst. “Do you think your cherry blossoms will sink or swim?”

031920152268

“The depths below the surfaces must be equal.”

Joyce uses the word cherry only three times in “Ulysses,” and he may have thought of cherry as a word that triggers a genre, of sangria fruit and not the white wine of the cherry blossoms:

Did you try the borax with the cherry laurel water?…
always with a laugh in her gipsylike eyes and a frolicsome word on her cherryripe red lips…
she of the cherry rouge and coiffeuse white…

Cherry TreeSit down on the grass and listen. You can hear the water flowing out of the ground pipe and into the reservoir, the waterfall fountain breaking the still blue water white and frothy like surf. Like John Cage, wherever Joyce listened, he heard music:

O, look we are so! Chamber music. Could make a kind of pun on that. It is a kind of music I often thought when she. Acoustics that is. Tinkling. Empty vessels make most noise. Because the acoustics, the resonance changes according as the weight of the water is equal to the law of falling water.

The breeze coming up the hill and over the water was blowing the blossoms off the trees and into the air. If you look closely at the left hand side of the photo below, you will see the blossoms in the air, as dry as your virtual kiss:

031920152264

Long after Sappho

…forgot herself

that he would be like a princess
blessed across from you
blossomed lips
a breath away,

your laugh leaves
me cold with doubt
still your kindnesses
pink and blue flowers,

long after this dormant grass
past the fires and all the dead
batteries burnt matches
library books soot lathed,

long ago the last picture
show the last ’56 Chevy
out of the drive-in
absurd theatre

audience hammering home,
long after the rearmost look
will we remember
the kisses blown

from open hands
and flippant wrists
dissipating smoke rings
the papyrus of your skin

upon which critics crawled
to carve their handles
to try to lift you back
oomph circling overhead.

What is Hidden: “A Shadow in Yucatan,” by Philippa Rees

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Work often conceals as much as it reveals. This is true whether the work is made by the corporation, at the construction site, in the art studio, or on the page, in writing. The metaphor is the great human hiding place. The poet stores nuts in poems buried in clay pots. Reading is an anthropological dig. A writer often spends as much time working on what to cut or shut out as what to include, to hold within. Readers are seduced by hidden artifacts, by craft and handiwork, also through secrets, gossip, whispers, and shadows. Can the writer trust the reader? Can the reader trust the writer? Writers have the advantage, since they can hide behind the narrator, while the narrator may hide within the story. The narrator may provide a voice-over. There may be other voices.

“A Shadow in Yucatan,” by Philippa Rees, begins with a secret that Stephanie, the protagonist, won’t be able to keep for long. She lives in Florida, calls her mother in Brooklyn, and explains her predicament, asking for help. Abortion is an existential question for the community, but it comes down to an existential question for two, Stephanie and her child. The theme of shame falls with its wet curtain, but Stephanie transcends the community’s efforts to use shame to control her decision. Who or what is the antagonist?

The writing in “A Shadow in Yucatan” is experimental and mesmerizing, experimental because it wrestles simultaneously with both what should be told, when, what kept hidden, and how the story should be told, mesmerizing because the language seems to have been distilled, its poetic form and novella length (divided into two parts and 21 chapters over 109 pages illustrated with 31 black and white photographs) resulting in a potent mixture of page turning pleasure. This is a book the reader falls into. I read the hard copy, having started with an e-edition, and the reading experience is simply different with the hard copy, more satisfying, both the text and the photographs, though there are of course the advantages of e-editions to readers who prefer them. But somehow, with the hard copy in hand, I could better hear the cadence and symmetry of the sentence structure, see the overall layout of the short chapters, hear the strategy of different voices, understand the purpose of the use of italics throughout, appreciate the fall of the black and white photographs, almost all suggesting something hidden as much as something shown.

Stephanie works in a beauty salon, where her story opens and closes in the symmetry of everyday conversation infused with irony; everyone seems to know something someone else does not, but all the knowing is connected. And of course a beauty salon is where people go to prepare a hidden course of action, to prepare hair and face and nails to improve circulation in the community. The tones of sarcasm and irony that shade Part One give way to a slight risk of sentimentalism in Part Two that is quickly washed away by inflexible socio-economic demographic persistence, where the demographic form is the child’s story, a nursery rhyme, told with the cadence of a lullaby interrupted by an inscrutable language only those properly initiated comprehend. Stephanie is a member of several communities throughout the book, and the nonjudgmental Miriam is something of a “smithy” of an angel.

I very much enjoyed reading this patiently crafted book. The form and content (the how and what) are perfectly blended. The writing is clear and concise, the diction carefully wrought, the sentence structure always varied and interesting, the dialog compelling, the text artistically cast and purposefully divided to invite reading. The dominant impression is of a sculpture, because what could have been a huge novel has been pared down to its essential shape, but the novel is still there, at once exposed and hidden.

“A Shadow in Yucatan,” a novella by Philippa Rees, Cover Design by Philippa Rees and Ana Grigoriu, Book Interior by Philippa Rees, First Print Edition 2006. Collabor Art Books.

Note: The slide show at the top of this post contains photos from my collection. These photos are not connected to Philippa’s book except through the theme of something hidden.

Casual Theory of Causality

Why pink asks blue whenGarlic at Gilroy
roused whose wheeze
where past just falls
fails new any to augur

When rash throws think
unfolds, unwraps, uncoils
relax what jeers
who held and

Wooden Clappers

Don’t let go of drop
though darkness rooms
and voices blink three
coins in a phone booth

At gas stop stuffed
outside Gilroy near
garlic beer and clown
juggling artichokes

Carriage trails from Castroville.