Friday, February 27, 2009

The Encyclopedia of Sand

The Encyclopedia of Sand
for Kathy

Abandoned Silica, the most migratory, is found
on nearly all of the world’s beaches.
Morning Sand is the most rare,
its extreme heaviness prevents migration.
Carried aboard Greek warships
between the toes of soldiers
fleeing the Persians, its weight
forced eleven ships to the floor of the ocean.
From a public phone on a wooden dock
in Costa Brava at four in the morning,
she reads to me, The Encyclopedia of Sand,
a small book she found
in the airport in Frankfurt.

If I lay my hand on the map
she is the distance from my forefinger
to the heel of the palm.
The moon scrapes my knuckles.
In the lulls between her words
I hear the ocean fling itself at the shore
like a drowning man. She takes off her shoes,
pours out sand to see if it resembles any in the book.
Behind her a passenger ship is moving away.
She doesn’t see it but I do.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Plan

(First appeared in the Harvard Review, Harvard University, No. 14, 1998, pg. 91; and is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)

The Plan

I walked into my apartment after work and my left foot was immediately overwhelmed by the warm air. Why didn’t my right foot also enjoy the climate change as quickly? I looked down. My left shoe was missing! I was wearing it when I left the store. No doubt it was stolen by that one-legged bastard Dr. Gorlick. He sat across from me on the bus, eyeing my new shoes as we wove through late afternoon traffic. Not once did he mention the polished leather’s soft glow, the imported style. His envious silence was confession enough. In the few minutes I was asleep -- I always take short naps on buses -- he slipped my shoe off and hid it in his black bag. I know he’ll wear my shoe while he treats patients tomorrow but not on the bus ride home. So I’ll disguise myself as a policeman wounded with a bullet in the stomach. The ambulance will deliver me to his office. My disguise will be so effective that as soon as he finishes treating the wound I’ll arrest him. Before sleep tonight I’ll read a book on police procedure. His crime should not go unpunished because of a technicality on my part.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The difference between memoir and poem is similar to the difference between fire and ashes. Decide for yourself which is which. Ragged chunk of ice and puddle of cold water was my first impulse. Decide for yourself which is which.

Every poem is a memoir. Every memoir is a wish*.

I once knew a man who didn’t know me. No argument in a poem. Memoir requires an explanation. Someone’s written a biography in verse. Haven’t seen it but it’s something I feel as I write this sentence. Considering the economics of publishing it probably won’t be published. Even if it’s brilliant, it probably won’t be published; economics.

The difference between biography and memoir? Biography has a referee.

So, how does this work? I mean memoir. This morning I remember a cranberry scone and cup of coffee. Sixteen years ago? If I was writing a memoir that year would be missing, suggesting what, that I wasn’t alive, or was asleep. Do you write everything in a journal?

Twenty-three years ago? The parking lot behind a movie theater on Ventura Boulevard. It was night. Just stopped raining. I slid my arms around a woman. She pushed her tongue into my mouth. I don’t remember her name. I like to think she remembers mine.

If you don’t remember something it didn’t happen. Every instant falls into the past immediately and immediately memory takes custody. Writing is how we honor memory. Good or bad memories. Writing is honoring the past. The past is everything.

Sometimes, and I mean just sometimes, I write something I didn’t know I remembered. Sometimes, and I mean just sometimes, I write something that causes a hand to reach from my stomach up through my chest and squeeze my heart. As I’m reading, as I’m writing, as the heart tightens, I have no idea why. Hiding behind poems is a convenience.

I’ve written poems that are too personal to dislike, for me, though that doesn’t make them good. Hopefully, I’ve exercised good judgment with them and only inflicted them on very few people. Memoirs are fitting places for apologizes. If I write one the apologies would be pronounced and deep.

“Truth is an unfortunate dilemma.”** Memoir.

*Though it might be more honest to say every memoir is wish on a two-way street. Memory traffics in trickery.
**A Personal History
It's simply a coincidence
that all the women I've ever loved
kept anteaters as pets.
But now, rearranging my past
I tell people it's not a coincidence.
The nuances of a personal history
make a man interesting, subtle differences
that causes a person to pause like a break in the wind.

I only recreate simple details,
things as easy to believe as a passage
from your sister's diary describing
how she gave her virginity to the kid
with curly hair who lived across the street,
the same kid she always ignored.
This was on the afternoon she didn't feel
like going to the movies with you and your
friends. Truth is an unfortunate dilemma.
Take the skin on my face, it's turning
dark as the wrong side of a dime,
walking is becoming difficult.
If I start to limp I'll say it's a war injury.
When properly developed
a past has the aftertaste of candy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Collections

Appeared in Swink Magazine, Los Angeles, Issue 2, early 2007.

The Collections

I abandoned collecting magnifying glasses
after I sold them to the president
of the Magnifying Glass Collectors of Wisconsin
whom I met by coincidence on a plane
returning from Grandfather’s funeral.
With the magnifying glasses gone
there was more room
for my shadow collection.
My favorite shadow
is of fire hydrant lying across a sidewalk
tangled in the shadow of a bicycle.
I captured it with Scotch tape,
keep it in a cigar box of its own.
It disappoints me, instead of seeing
the shadow most people only see
a knot of tape. I keep the rest
of the collection, nine shadows
to a box, in a kitchen cupboard.

In my family, men have always been collectors.
Grandfather collected violin strings,
owned one thousand and seven when he passed away.
He bought them from school teachers,
violin repairmen, even from children
who hated practicing while friends did fun things.
And Father, he kept stacks of unused bricks
hushed in the weeds behind a shed.
It took me years to understand
that it wasn’t bricks he collected,
like me he collected the shape of absence,
the missing light, the unbuilt things.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Doors are as useful for entering poems as they are for rooms. A lover abandons you, for example. You write a poem. Sadness is the door to the poem. Yes, sophomoric, but clear. Another example. You dream that your father’s ghost visits. How many poems are there about that? Doors, poems. Poems, doors.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you everything there is important to know about doors.

Doorknobs were invented before doors. When I first heard this I was skeptical, too. This came to my attention while reading a draft of an Alexis Orgera poem. Dinner in a Thai restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica. Alexis and I often dined there. I chuckled a touch at the doorknob line. “No, no, no, Rick, it’s true,” Alexis said quickly. “Come on,” I said even more quickly. Though there was much honesty in her voice I still had difficulty believing doorknobs were invented before doors. According to her poem they were invented almost a thousand years before doors and thousands of miles from where the door would be invented.

Alexis’ sister, Kendall, a college student, had discovered the truth about doorknobs while writing a paper on the dynamics of entering a room*. The history unfolds something like this. On the Greek island of Icaria, I think 1187 BC, a stone was placed at the entrance to an important room. Before entering, a person would pickup the stone and thrust their hand clenching the stone into the room. This was supposed to be a warning to any evil gods inside that they were armed, the stone, and should leave. The Romans adopted this tradition and carried it to what was to become Germany where the door was invented. It’s not hard to see the similarities between stone and doorknob. And as demonstrated earlier, door and poem.

You can force your way into a room. You can’t force your way into a poem. Though many poets have taped a poem to a door then kicked it down. Anger at poems, a force multiplier. In fact, in 1898 the Royal Irish Constabulary, when teaching new members to kick down doors, pinned poems to the about to be assaulted doors**. This practice only lasted five months. To be honest, I am suspect of this fact. But as stated earlier, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you everything important there is to know about doors. Doors, poems. Poems, doors.

The woman who would try to kill me in a matter of minutes stood on the other side of a door. I was asleep on a sofa, the closest to the that door, the person woken her knock. Though now I remember the sound as something that more resembled the palm of a hand slapping cheap wood and not that of thin flesh over knuckles banging on a door.

So much begins that way, a knock on a door. Doors order the world in a way walls could never dream of.

There is always an instant when murderer and victim are on opposite sides of a door. There is always an instant when a poet and poem are on opposite sides of a door.

I couldn’t describe the door. I could describe the room. But I won’t.

Jeans, t-shirt, army-issue socks, dog tags – that’s what I wear. She also wears jeans. The door is only slightly open. She takes a step back, adding another two feet between us. Her shoulder-length brown hair is tousled. The door is only half-open when I see the gun, nickel-plated 9 millimeter semi-automatic pistol. The gun is level with my stomach. She pulls the trigger. The gun is at the height of my shoulder. She pulls the trigger again. I begin to duck and close the door. She tries to point the pistol at my face and pulls the trigger a third time. The door slams. Quiet.

Doors resent locks but appreciate their necessity.

She had never seen me before. Not even in a photograph. She didn’t know my name. I didn’t know hers. It was a mistake. I wasn’t the man she was hoping to kill. She never apologized. The why of this story is unimportant. The role played by the door is what’s important. The door remained closed.

Doors appear in twenty-three of my poems, most prominently in The Burdens. I feel completely confident in saying that all poets eventually write about doors.

* I can’t imagine what her major is.
** I wonder how many of these Constables were poets?
*** (This poem first appeared in Quarterly West, University of Utah, No. 47, Autumn/Winter 1998-99; is also in The Soup of Something Missing.)
The Burdens

The man carrying a door on his back resembles
an insect crawling across the pavement.
Excuse me, he says to a stranger, do you want to buy my door.
My grandfather stole it from prison when he escaped.
Before that it belonged to a brothel.
No, the stranger replies, prison doors are bad luck.
But brothel doors are good luck, the man with the door responds.
The stranger walks away.

The man carrying a door on his back
can’t stand up straight or turn his head
to see the man carrying a window on his back.

The man carrying a window on his back resembles
a streetlight reflected in a puddle.
Excuse me, he says to the man with the door,
do you want to buy my window, it belonged to my sister
she jumped out of it when she was fifteen.
Before that it belonged to a church. A suicide window
is bad luck, says the man with the door.
But a church window is good luck, the man with the window responds.

They trade their burdens the same way the man with a chimney
becomes the man with a staircase on his back
looking for anyone who wants to climb them.