Saturday, August 12, 2017

FAUVIST FOREST


"Fauvist Forest" by Troy's Work Table

Sidewalk chalk, charcoal, and chalk pastels on sidewalk in Puyallup's Pioneer Park as part of Art Downtown's "Chalk the Walk."

Friday, August 11, 2017

SERAPH


"Seraph" by Troy's Work Table. A companion to "Shift."


Sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal on concrete wall and sidewalk at Frost Park.

Monday, August 07, 2017

PILLAR


"Pillar" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk and charcoal on 12" x 24" concrete board.

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There are three "divine" beings who are "nightmare" "characters" from my childhood. The three of them "haunt" me. It is likely that I have conflated them in my imagination. Or, alternately, they have converged, in some sense, in my inner world.

(The many quotation marks set off beings that are not necessarily equal, but perhaps have provided me equal amounts of terror throughout my life, for various reasons.)

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The first being is the God of the Old Testament. And it is this being that provides the chalk "painting" with its title. I think of the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night, which was leading the Israelites throughout the desert. But the relationship was holy and tense and tentative, the latter mostly because the people lacked the proper faith to trust in this God and his manifestations.

Additionally, I think of the fourth figure in the furnace fire with Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. Christians like to get a bit sloppy with the story and insist that it is Jesus made known to the the three men. I like to think that this figure is a manifestation of God, but I don't need this person to be the Word, the Son, the Christ.

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The second being is Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos of H. P. Lovecraft's weird fiction, who has "risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries." I think of his thousand manifestations of madness and how he pursued me when I was an impressionable young reader of horror. I see him as the "swarthy, slender, and sinister" man who "looked like a Pharaoh" so that I don't have to imagine his otherworldly, non-Euclidean, extradimensional forms.

But the "human" avatar is plenty nightmarish on its own.

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The third being is Randall Flagg, the dark man of Stephen King's The Stand. I don't watch film or television series versions of Flagg because he is both very concrete in my mind and very fleeting. I see him as King described him: walking the freeway in his "sharp-toed cowboy boots" and "faded, pegged jeans and a denim jacket," the latter adorned with the many buttons he has placed there. I see him as a man of no age, as well as a man with no face. I see him as silhouette, as shadow, as darkness, as void, as abyss.

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There is a piece of me that wonders if Lovecraft was drawing upon Yahweh and other gods of the ancient Middle East for Nyarlathotep. There is a piece of me that wonders if King was drawing upon Nyarlathotep for Flagg.

Even if neither Lovecraft nor King is searching back and echoing what has come before, those echoes and juxtapositions still resonate for me, right or wrong as they may be.

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Which is all a long way of saying that the dark charcoal figure in the pillar of flame above is a mixture-manifestation of those three. I see one as good, one as "neutral-indifferent," and one as evil. Yet they are gathered together and presented as one in some deep place in my dreamscape. They are nightmarish because they are so other, so supernatural, so different.

And each of them has appeared in my life again for different reasons. The first because of a death and having to turn to one of my favorite stories from the Old Testament: (the same) God appearing before the prophet Elijah and giving him his mission. The second because of a couple of stories and poems I'm working on, and the weird fiction that inspires them. The third because of the film version of The Dark Tower being released, which includes Matthew McConaughey as a manifestation of Flagg.

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Then, for whatever reason, I saw the forms of "Fungal Forest" underlying this figure and the chalk piece emerged. It was quick and raw in its creation. And, fortunately, it is now out on concrete and out of my head.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

SHIFT


Details of "Shift" by Troy's Work Table.


Art as grief therapy. Art as process. Art as ritual.


Sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, charcoal, and a spot of motor oil on 13' x 4' "found" concrete.

Friday, July 07, 2017

SENESCENT


"Senescent" by Troy's Work Table. Sharpie marker on "found" paint. 10" x 18". Bremerton Art Walls.

SWIM FREE


"Swim Free!" by Troy's Work Table. Acrylic paint on "found" paint. 9" x 12". Bremerton Art Walls.

Friday, June 23, 2017

GORGÓS


"Gorgós (Dreadful)" by Troy's Work Table.

Mixed media on 24" x 36" concrete board. (Sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, charcoal, plaster of Paris, tempera paint, charcoal pencil.)

From left to right: Euryale, Stheno, Medusa.

LEMNIAN ATHENA


"Lemnian Athena" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, charcoal, and charcoal pencil on 18" x 24" concrete board.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

ENTROPY of the IMPERIAL YOUTH


"Entropy of the Imperial Youth" by Troy's Work Table.

Watercolor and India ink on 9" x 12" watercolor paper.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

UNION OFFICERS



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Union officers flank the battlefield at the Civil War reenactment during Old Town Days of Union Gap, Washington.

Friday, June 16, 2017

XXX CANTOS


Wooden type at the Olde Yakima Letterpress Museum.

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"She is submarine, she is an octopus, she is / A biological process"

—from "Canto XXIX" by Ezra Pound

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(I'm intrigued by these lines, but even more so by the line break.)

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I've now completed the first 30 of the 120 Cantos of Ezra Pound.

With A Draft of XXX Cantos (1930) completed, I move on to Eleven New Cantos XXXI–XLI (1934).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

IGNORANCE


"Keep your eyes on the mirror. / Prayed we to the Medusa, / petrifying the soil to the shield,"

—from "Canto XV" by Ezra Pound

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I have decided to read The Cantos by Ezra Pound. But I have decided to read it on its own terms, in the midst of my ignorance.

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It would be easy to find a guide to interpreting these poems and have everything of which I am unaware or need additional help identifying explained for me. But it would slow down my reading and not allow the poems to sing.

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Therefore, I simply read.

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I encounter English, colloquial English, Greek, Latin, Italian, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and transliterated Chinese. I know there are more languages to come.

I encounter references to mythology and history of which I am only vaguely familiar or unfamiliar, amidst stories that I do know.

I let all of it wash over me.

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I enjoy the song of the lines and lyrics, even if I do not always understand their references or meanings.

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At a later time, I will read The Cantos again, with a guide, in order that I can enjoy the poem with fuller knowledge of what Pound intends me to find within. But, for now, I dwell in my ignorance and let the poem speak to me where I am at, with what I know.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

UNIVERSAL HARVESTER


"Orlok, like the actor [Boris Karloff], is a surviving remnant of a bygone age; the monsters he played when he was younger and stronger have given way to the ongoing shocks of the late twentieth century, to atrocities of war and the isolation of modern life. There are new monsters now."

—page 20, Universal Harverster by John Darnielle

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John Darnielle is the singer-songwriter responsible for the band The Mountain Goats, and for most of it's musical history as the solo member. Now, Mr. Darnielle is also an author and Universal Harvester is his second novel.

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I went in with no expectations of what to find within these pages.

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The little I did know was that the main character was a twenty-something clerk in a mom-and-pop video store in Nevada, Iowas in those moments where videotape rentals were on the decline. The story takes place in the late 1990s. My experience as a teenage clerk in a mom-and-pop video store took place a decade earlier, but I found much here that was familiar.

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It doesn't take long for the familiar to give way to the strange, though. Small snippets of home video (?) are being reported by customers in the middle of movies they've rented. But how did these scenes get there?

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A reading note:

There is a slow build of creeping horror (and I'm only to page 42 (of 214)). This is Lovecraftian. Or Poe. Or The Blair Witch Project.

It shouldn't be as tense as it is at this point, mostly because so little has happened.

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And then:

Darnielle makes sure that he knows that you were going to refer to The Blair Witch Project at some point...

"'I don't know if either of you saw that Blair With Project but they had something like this on the internet.' Both nodded back." (page 76)

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There is more than one story line and they eventually melt together. The tension builds and then is left as we enter a new story line. The pattern starts again. But there is connective tissue to attach one story to another to another.

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This isn't cosmic horror (a la Lovecraft) after all, but, indeed, the new monster of "the isolation of modern life." The antidote in these tales is people having to deal with one another face to face, in the flesh.

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Recommended if you like literary fiction or "cerebral" horror.



Wednesday, June 07, 2017

THE CANTOS


My "new" hardcover copy of The Cantos by Ezra Pound.

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On Memorial Day weekend, I was perusing the shelves at King's Books when I happened upon this copy of The Cantos. It is in very good condition. Other than a minor tear on the spine of the book jacket, some fading on the jacket (due to being many decades old), and a handwritten inscription on the end papers, this book is hardly used. Also, it was reasonably priced.

What makes me nearly a moron is that I initially passed it up.

I didn't have any cash on me at the time. But as the week wore on, I kept wondering why I didn't grab this book off of the poetry shelf and bring it home with me. I rectified the problem by doing just that this evening.

I returned to King's Books, all the while offering up prayers that it would still be on the shelf, and once I saw it grabbed on to it and didn't let go until I purchased it and made it back to the car.

Now I'm letting Pound's language and lines wash over me.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

GRASS


These stalks of grass are as thick as drinking straws and six to eight feet in height. I'm hiding in their midst during a break from work, watching birds.

Friday, June 02, 2017

ARTEMISION POSEIDON


"Artemision Poseidon" by Troy's Work Table.

Charcoal, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

CYPRIOTE APOLLO


"Cypriote Apollo" by Troy's Work Table.

Charcoal, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

THE NIGHT OCEAN



This is a case of book design getting me to pick up the book. The sky appeared to swirl around the moon, and then I saw the silhouetted arm sticking out of the waves. I stopped and picked up the book and read the jacket copy and checked it out (from my local library).

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The Night Ocean by Paul La Farge was categorized and shelved as a mystery by the library, but I would have placed it in literary fiction.

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It was promoted as being inspired by "H. P. Lovecraft and his circle," but it is less H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu Mythos than it is Robert Bolaño and his novel The Savage Detectives. It is a love story to literature through the lens and lives of some of the purveyors of weird fiction.

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The main stories are anchored upon two apparent (although maybe not) suicides—Charlie Willett in the present day and Robert Barlow in 1951—and the author/weird fiction fan L. C. Spinks who is their connection. A possibly homosexual relationship between Barlow and Lovecraft and the discovery of The Erotonomicon underlie all. And it is all complicated by Charlie Willett's fandom of Lovecraft, as a black man who reads and relishes a (now) known (and known to him) racist.

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There are plenty of references and appearances by authors of weird fiction and science fiction—
Frederick Pohl, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Hart Crane, Ambrose Bierce. Williams S. Burroughs appears in multiple storylines as one-named "characters" Bill and Lee, in addition to some of his famous "routines" from Naked Lunch being mentioned.

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For as many of the literary "in jokes" that I got, I'm sure there were twice as many that I missed. The characters are so well written and their stories so compelling that I found myself reading late into the night and filling up my free time with reading so I could find out what happened next. 

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I highly recommend this book to fans of mysteries, science fiction, biographies, and literary fiction.

Monday, May 29, 2017

APPROACHING SUNSET


Altocumulus clouds fill the sky as sunset approaches.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

INKTOPODES (now in blue, too)


"Rorschach" ("Inktopodes" #24)—watercolor, gouache, and India ink on 3″ x 3″ watercolor paper, by Troy Kehm-Goins.

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The "Inktopodes" will be available at the spring 2017 Destiny City Zine Symposium. In addition to orange Inktopodes, now there is also a new series of blue Inktopodes. Each unique individual comes in a small frame and with an official Troy’s Work Table Publishing “adoption certificate,” all for the reasonable and affordable price of $10 each.

Come and visit the TWTP table and start your own "octopus garden"!

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Destiny City Zine Symposium
Saturday 27 May 2017 • 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Destiny City Comics and King's Books, 218 St. Helens Ave, Tacoma WA 98402

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"Every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it."

—"The Mast-Head," chapter 35, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A QUIET PASSION


I'm on a date with my Secret Girlfriend, or at least a Cynthia Nixon/Terence Davies rendering of her.

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A Quiet Passion is about faith, family, a woman's place in nineteenth-century New
England society. It is a series of meditations upon melancholia. It is a "pushing back" against the dictates and expectations of patriarchy, "within reason." It is filled with uncomfortable silences, beautiful gardens, exquisite cinematography, and, toward the end, scenes of illness and death.

But, primarily, the film is about the passage of time, which is explored in mostly "soft" and subtle ways.

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My favorite scenes are when just Emily (Cynthia Nixon) and her sister Vinnie (Jennifer Ehle) are on screen. They banter and cajole, pressing one another, scolding one another, forgiving one another, and loving one another. Their scenes together are filled with power and love—both familial and friendship. Yes, they may be sisters, but they are obviously also great friends.

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One of my favorite scenes is early in the film and involves a shot that circles (counter-clockwise and therefore "against" time) around the Dickinson living room at night, while the family members quietly read, sew, and sit in a room illuminated by candlelight, lamplight, and the fire in the hearth. It begins with young Emily reading and ends with her in tears, moved by what she has read.

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After our date, my Secret Girlfriend and I settle in at home for more intimate moments together.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

INKTOPODES


"Ceto" ("Inktopodes" #19)—watercolor, gouache, and India ink on 3″ x 3″ watercolor paper, by Troy's Work Table.

---

The "Inktopodes" will be available for the first time at PuliCon 2017, Puyallup Public Library's Mini Comic Convention. Each unique individual comes in a small frame and with an official Troy’s Work Table Publishing “adoption certificate,” all for the reasonable and affordable price of $10 each.

Come and visit the TWTP table and start your own “octopus garden”!

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PuliCon 2017
Saturday 06 May 2017 • 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Puyallup Public Library, 324 South Meridian, Puyallup WA 98371

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"Every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some undiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it."

—"The Mast-Head," chapter 35, Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Sunday, April 30, 2017

SHADOW-DICK

The Moby-Dick (1851, by Herman Melville) reference in Shadowbahn (2017, by Steve Erickson) appears on page 233.

Friday, April 28, 2017

AMERICAN

"There have been years she was confused, and more recent years when she may still have been confused or only pretending to be confused. In the thirteen years since Zema came to America, she has never had any idea that having no idea who she is and having no idea where she belongs makes her more American than anyone."

—page 51, Shadowbahn by Steve Erickson

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

INKTOPODES


"Inktopodes" #7.

Watercolor, gouache, and India ink on 3" x 3" watercolor paper.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

COSMOS and COSMOS ABSTRACT


"Cosmos" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, and chalk pastels on 24" x 36" concrete board.

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"Cosmos Abstract" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, and chalk pastels on 18" x 24" concrete board.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

POEMS for LENT • AT JERUSALEM'S GATE


"At Jerusalem's Gate" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"No light shoots from / his fingertips. / His voice calls down / no fire. / And yet, they say / a fig tree withered / at his word." and "singing Hosanna! / Hosanna! Hosanna! / as if my very life depends upon it." —from "At Jerusalem's Gate" by Nikki Grimes, as found in At Jerusalem's Gate: Poems of Easter

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With Palm Sunday tomorrow, my "Poems for Lent" reading project comes to an end tonight. (Yes, Lent technically runs until Easter day, but I knew I would be using Palm Sunday, and therefore the start of Holy Week, as my ending point.)

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I decided that I wanted a poem with religious themes to end my days of reading poem upon poem, so I chose one of the poems from At Jerusalem's Gate by Nikki Grimes. They are the text of a kid's picture book with beautiful, bold, and brilliantly-colored woodcuts by David Frampton.

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These aren't mostly poems of Easter, but of poems of the Passion and what leads up to Easter.

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This particular poem reflects upon the arrival of Jesus at the gates of Jerusalem and his entry into the holy city.

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I wanted to capture the city itself, but using elements of the Palm Sunday story. Therefore, I opted to reflect the colors of the cloaks thrown down upon the road through the gate. I imagined the New City of Revelation (as shown to John of Patmos), though, and so made twelve gates in which to enter—a gate for each of the tribes of Israel (and the sons of Jacob); a gate for each of the Apostles; the number of perfection (3, representing divinity, multiplied by 4, representing creation)—with ten of those gates bound by stone and iron (representing the Laws), one bound by moon, and one bound by sun.

And, as Nikki Grimes presses a bit against the story of the Passion and asks questions, and allows doubt to make an appearance, all the while returning to a faithful stance in the end; I decided to play a bit, but then likewise return to the simple and the faithfully representational.

Friday, April 07, 2017

POEMS for LENT • TREES LIKE US


"Trees Like Us" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"a breathing interrupted by a silence / in which the very air is suspended" and "All night the trees whisper sweet nothings / that put us to sleep, then hold us."

—from "Trees Like Us" by Marvin Bell, as found in Poetry for a Midsummer's Night: In the Spirit of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

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I've always been fascinated by anthropomorphized trees—the cedars of Lebanon clapping their hands in the Psalms, the Ents in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, treefolk of the fairy realms.

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Here, in this poem, there is magic.

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I tend to think creation gets saved alongside (and because of) humankind when humanity is redeemed. But this poem switches who is redeemed and who is saved alongside the others. Here it is the trees that pull us along.

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I get the sense that these "trees like us" aren't really like us, however. They feel as indifferent as the trees in the poems of Robinson Jeffers, They may be alive and they may sing us to sleep, but they don't really care about us, in the same way that we don't really care about them.

(Marvin Bell seems to care about the trees, especially since they feature in a few of the poems in this collection, but he seems to be an exception.)


Thursday, April 06, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE DESERT PLACES


"The Desert Places" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"And she shone yellow and red and matted hair in the light of my eyes. And she sweated in the heat of my breath." and "And when the man returned from the garden, dried-bloody and dirt-filthy and sticky from naming still more animals..." and "And I named the man 'mortal' and I named him 'returned to the dust' and I named all his days 'fruitless and weary.' And when I finally spat him out, I named him a pile of pulped flesh and ground bone and gristle."

—from chapter 2 of The Desert Places by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss

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I'm not quite sure exactly what The Desert Places is. It's not really a novel. It's not really a collection of poems. I suppose it's a series of prose poems that dabble in the mythology and stories of the Old Testament.

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Chapter 2 is the story of the Fall from the viewpoint of a god of some sort, although not the Creator God. Perhaps he is the demiurge of Gnosticism, the Adversary of the book of Job, Satan of Christianity, the serpent in the Garden (although he claims there is no fruit of the tree of good and evil and he is no talking snake). He is obviously operating in his own interest.

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Regardless of the mythos in which Sparks and Kloss are playing and utilizing for their dark take on the stories of Creation and Fall, the Man and the Woman still end up in the same place as they do in the source material: mortal, suffering, "returned to dust," broken, and expelled from "paradise."

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And then there is a devouring, as Kronos to his children. We are in the primordial myths of the Titans. We await the child who will cut open the stomach of the father and rescue his siblings but none is here offered.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

POEMS for LENT • LATERAL TIME


"Lateral Time" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"I'd never held the ashes of a dead man but I'd always wanted to know a famous artist, so I reached out my left hand and she spilled him into my palm. He was flame-white, his flesh dust, he was tiny bones you could play with—they could be doll parts—peaceful in my hands like light."

and

"Now I've begun to write "NO!" on my body parts, small cross-stitched reminders to throw me back and hook another. Tattoo on my right breast, sticker on my colon, scribble of bright blue between my ovaries, hollowed out now of eggs but still handy to balance me out."


—from "Lateral Time" by Maureen Seaton, as found in Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present (edited by David Lehman)

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This is a perfect poem for Lent. There is death. There is dust and ashes. There is an embodiment, a celebration of flesh, followed by disintegration and an "en-soul-ment."

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At first, I wasn't sure that this poem would "work." But then I read it again. And again.

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Multiple readings allowed it to resonate. To take on flesh of its own.

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This poem is filled with light.

(Not just the light of the bones, but the light of a television screen, light reflected upon the Hudson river, shimmering air, the light of dawn.)

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This poem is about turning around—not turning back, but turning toward—and it does so through the things of everyday life, the things of the present moment.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

POEMS for LENT • XV


"XV" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Die Jahre sind nun nicht mehr wie die Wogen / Wenn sie das Meerschiff senken oder heben" and "Die Spiegelwelt in ihren blassen Farben / Erging sich im Verwandeln ohne Lust / Ich wendete mich nieder zu dem Blust" —from "XV" by Walter Benjamin, as found in Sonnets

"No longer do the years resemble waves / When they draw down or life an ocean vessel" and "The mirror world in its pale hues / Did give itself to transformation without joy / Stooping to the water-bloom" —translated from German to English by Carl Skoggard

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Walter Benjamin wrote 73 sonnets in honor and memory of his friend Fritz Heinle after Heinle committed suicide at the start of World War I.

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These sonnets are "love poems" to a friend. They are filled with loss and longing. They are filled with meditations upon death and the passage of time.

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Sometimes translator Carl Skoggard uses archaic English (thee, thou, hadst, dost) to reflect the German that Benjamin was using at the time. I have to trust him that it is more authentic than contemporary terms. (It doesn't happen in this particular sonnet, though.)

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Sonnet XV starts a set of poems that alternate between images of the sea/waves and Spirit/wind. A ship and its sails are being pushed about, blown toward some indeterminate destination.

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Then, as with Heinle's life, the images, the lines, fade away into "deceiving August."

Monday, April 03, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE HAND HAS TWENTY-SEVEN BONES


"The Hand Has Twenty-Seven Bones" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"1. I make my faith in my hands. A writer can declare faith in nothing but must bear faith in her hands. Hands are the inventors of language. We make words for what we must do. Our words are made of hands."

and

"19. There are twenty-seven bones in the hand and twenty-seven protons in the nucleus of an atom of cobalt. Cobalt blue. Our hands are the masters of our blues. How many times have I given up my head for them to hold? "

—from "The Hand Has Twenty-Seven Bones" by Natalie Diaz, as found in the "Faith" issue of Tin House (17:3)

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Sometimes, contemporary "list" prose poems appear to be nonsense that has been strung together. Not so in the case of this poem. Here, the twenty-seven "aphorisms," one for each bone of the hand, are all related to hands in either a universal "definition" or in a personal "reflection." (Or sometimes simultaneously both.)

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The beauty comes in the punch-line of the poem, revealed through a slow build: a play on the notion of being created in the image of God.

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This poem is truly a joy to read as it makes its case. It skirts what many may consider both profane and sacred throughout its lines, but really falls on the side of the latter.

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It is a prayer of thanksgiving.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

POEMS for LENT • ODE to HEPHAESTUS


"Ode to Hephaestus" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"about circuitously walking / toward an injured crow / with a tire iron called Mercy." —from "Ode to Hephaestus, the Blacksmith Who Makes Lightning Bolts and Is Married to Aphrodite but Is Ugly" by Dan Chelotti, as found in x

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We are shaped by perception and perspective.

Even the title of the poem alludes to this. Hephaestus is ugly, yet he has the goddess of beauty and love for his wife. (Although the marriage is problematic.)  Hephaestus is ugly, yet he is capable of fashioning lightning bolts to be used as weapons by the other gods. (And, once again his relationship to those other gods is problematic.)

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What may look like cruelty to one may be another's mercy. Like the story of Hephaestus, we don't have enough of the story here to properly judge. (Things are potentially problematic.) With what we do have, the story rings true. (Although it may indeed be problematic.)

What do perception and perspective look like when shaped by only a minimum of information? What do they look like in the midst of ambiguity?


Saturday, April 01, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE CAGED EAGLE'S DEATH DREAM


"The Caged Eagle's Death Dream" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Where meteors make green fire and die, the ocean dropping westward to the girdle of the pearls of dawn"

and

"It saw, according to the sight of its kind, the archetype / Body of life a beaked carnivorous desire / Self-upheld on storm-broad wings: but the eyes / Were spouts of blood; the eyes were gashed out; dark blood / Ran from the ruinous eye-pits to the hook of the beak / And rained on the waste spaces of empty heaven."

—from "The Caged Eagle's Death Dream" (from Cawdor) by Robinson Jeffers, as found in Cawdor and Rock and Hawk: A Selection of Shorter Poems

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I knew I was going to have to get Jeffers in here, but I was worried about how to do it. First, his work is so dark and heavy-laden with indifference to humankind and its cultures, governments, and monuments. He makes my misanthropy look downright amateurish. Second, his body of work is so immense I found it hard to hone in one poem. But I decided to focus on one of the shorter pieces from an earlier work, which allowed him to be at the peak of his writing and not yet "destroyed" by the "isms" and slaughter of World War II.

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I not going to pretend to even be able to touch his long lines, his (un)holy lifting up of nature at the expense of humankind, the images that tumble over one another.

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There is no glory in death here. There is no real fear of death, either. (There is weeping on the part of Michal, though, when George retrieves the revolver and shoots the eagle in its cage. It's "on scene" and its quick. (We can almost miss it, if it wasn't for the dead bird's dreaming.))

Death is.

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The phantom of the eagle is as though Icarus, although it welcomes being burned up by the sun ("it's father") when it flies too close, ending up as "peace like a white fawn in a dell of fire."

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There is no falling back to earth from the heavens here. There is no.

Friday, March 31, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE TIGERS of NANZEN-JI


"The Tigers of Nanzen-ji" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"wander an extraordinary / maze whose very / air's alive, alit with breeze- / borne inebriants" and "but claws / bedded in their velvet-napped paws, / for there will be no killings tonight." —from "The Tigers of Nanzen-ji" by Brad Leithauser, as found in Cats of the Temple

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I illustrated an ekphrastic poem. (I'll let that sink in for a moment.)

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I had an image in mind before I sought out a reproduction of the artwork to which the poem refers. While I appreciate what the poet does with the original painting, I still decided to bring my own piece to life. (Otherwise, what is the point of the project? And I didn't want another Leithauser poem; I wanted this one.)

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In the poem, I sense a divide between what is wild and what is domesticated.

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And there is a playfulness here. This is the "pretend" and the "play" that we often relegate to the realm of children's games, even though those games are real and difficult work.

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In the poem, I sense a notion of working within the bounds of what we know, with the knowledge, resources, and tools that are at hand. (Can we really do anything else?)

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We cannot know what we do not know, for good or ill.

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Sometimes we need a guide. 

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Sometimes we need permission to encounter things as they really are.

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The punchline of the poem comes in the last two stanzas. We are reassured that "the danger's all a bluff" and that we are "free from harm here." Yet can we truly be safe and secure in the face of an encounter with the divine—even if it is mediated in the form of a work of art, a wild beast, or a religious sanctuary? (Or in this case, some thing that serves as all three?)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

POEMS for LENT • SKIN


"Skin" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Sometimes I nerve-hover hand-sized square to square, nick-naming (and mind-mapping) every burn mark and blemish: starfish, Utah, Pee Dee River; Africa, amoeba, mole-mound, quail." and "daub each one with a cold cube of yellow butter" —from "Skin" by Atsuro Riley, as found in Romey's Order

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I played a bit loose and simple with the images from the poem, but I absolutely love what ended up on the chalk board.

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"Constellations," clockwise, starting with upper left (as imagined by Romey): rabbit foot/Florida; tepee/Fuji; starfish; Africa; general scar; anchor; amoeba.

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Skin as existential map. Skin as a field of constellations. Skin as a "suit" that reflects how we live, declares that we are alive.

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Scars as stories of life lived.


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I also imagined skin as a skillet. The cube of butter becomes a pat of butter gliding about on the griddle of the body. 


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

POEMS for LENT • WATER LILIES


"Water Lilies" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"like children who pierce their flesh // and press wound with wound as if like ancients / we assembled a cairn of stones and a pillar forbidding // each other pass with evil intent." and "squinting towards // that one pink blossom, framed by the purple -spiked bee balm, / that has stayed open all this time to forgive us." —from "Water Lilies" by Philip Terman, as found in Rabbis of the Air

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I have had the privilege of hearing Philip Terman read some of the poems of this collection. What I find compelling about his writing and his reading of his poetry is that it is infused with rite and ritual and holiness.

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For me, "Water Lilies" is a poem of memory, loss, longing. Yet it is also a poem of presence, reconciliation, forgiveness.

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I like that instead of creation being redeemed along with (and through) humanity those in the poem are redeemed along with (and through) creation.

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The images that stand out for me are the lighting of a candle, of a stack of stones, of the tiny frogs in the pond, of a single pink blossom floating on the surface of the pond.

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This poem is prayer.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

POEMS for LENT • SONGS of EXTINCTION


"Songs of Extinction" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"dodo bleating reedily to English-bred hounds," and "The last Victrola cranked to play in earnest. / The bright green town of my youth." —from "Songs of Extinction" by William Kupinse, as found in Fallow

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The songs of extinction in this poem parallel the history of humanity. They move from the death throes of a mastodon to the current day. They move from the universal and humanity to the personal and individual.

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The first five-line strophe is of animals of the past. The second four-line strophe is of animals on the verge of extinction. The third three-line strophe is of losses of human culture. The fourth (and final) two-line strophe is of a personal moment soon to be lost.

The movement on the page—full, longer lines to fewer, shorter lines—is an extinction itself.

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Once again, I am struck by beauty in the midst of loss. This is an elegy that truly sings.

Monday, March 27, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE GRASS


"The Grass" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Bouteloua black / grama grass red / chino side- / oats blue grama grass / hairy buffalo- / grass toboso three-awn / land's dawn" and "whispering seeds / will pass, will pass / within leaves / listening" —from "The Grass" by Jeffrey Yang

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Jeffrey Yang conjures up an immense sea of grass: grassland upon grassland called forth through incantatory lines that name the various species of North American grasses of the Great Plains.

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I have stood in the midst of the such a sea of grass in the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in southwestern South Dakota. Standing in the midst of chest-high grass, where all I could see was more grass in all directions was a bit of a "Pip moment" (like the experience of the cabin boy in Moby-Dick when he is left abandoned in the middle of the ocean). There was only grass and sky. It was a moment of great joy, as well as a moment of great terror when I realized the vast scale of grassland and how small I was in the midst of such scale. Just as in the poem, I found myself "hitched to everything else / in the universe."

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What happens when one realizes how small one is? What happens when one realizes the vastness of the cosmos and the immensity of the divine?

The answer is whispering in the wind. We merely need to listen.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE FISH


"The Fish" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Now the sea / is in me: I am the fish, the fish / glitters in me; we are / risen, tangled together / certain to fall / back to the sea." —from "The Fish" by Mary Oliver, as found in American Primitive

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This poem is many things.

It is about nostalgia and recollection.

It is about a loss of innocence.

It is about the necessity of destruction in the act of ingestion and nourishment.

It is about interdependence and interconnectedness.

It is about suffering and the mystery of the same.

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Yet there is also beauty here.

In the midst of death there is fascination.

Through the "law of contagion" one becomes a fish through ingestion. One swims in the sea, just as the sea swims in the one.

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I imagine all of it a net. We may slip through, but it is unlikely.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

POEMS for LENT • UNHOLY SONNET


"Unholy Sonnet" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"All lengths of gut are pasture, all membrane / Peels back and off like ripe persimmon skin." —from "Unholy Sonnet 9" by Mark Jarman, as found in Questions for Ecclesiastes

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Upon reading this poem, all I could envision was the anatomical drawings of Andreas Vesalius in his De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body).

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This particular "Unholy Sonnet" is a play on the "Collect for Purity" from the Book of Common Prayer"Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden..."

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We are stories read by the divine. Nothing is hidden. All is seen.

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We are called to turn back toward God in the same way that the comets follow their courses. But this is no clockwork universe. This is a God in relationship with humanity. Even though we are seen and known, there is still choice available to us.

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We may not hear God's voice in this unholy sonnet, but we do see God's handiwork in the beauty and complexity of God's creation, especially in those made in God's image.

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And, for being "unholy sonnets," these particular poems will feel familiar to those who entertain faith in the God of Judaism and Christianity. The language borrows heavily from the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as well as the traditions that have arisen to worship that same God. But the poems are wholly Jarman's, which may be why they "aren't" holy.

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Thank God for the questions of the poets!

Friday, March 24, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE LEARN'D ASTRONOMER


"The Learn'd Astronomer" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Even then, I knew the stars to be empty cans." and "the art of love is less mysterious than you suppose: / a plastic toy in a rubble of caramel corn." —from "The Learn'd Astronomer" by Michael Robbins, as found in Alien vs. Predator

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The poems in Alien vs. Predator are a mixture of pop culture references, song lyric snippets, and traditional poetic forms.

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"The Learn'd Astronomer" shrinks distances between the far and the near, the ethereal stars and the tangible manifestations of our lives. Instead of playing the cliche of saying we are star dust, Robbins collapses the stars into our lives as "junk in a Safeway cart."

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This is a "romantic" poem, a "love" poem, that has been stripped of what we think of as romance, what we think of as love. I think this is a love poem for the "end times," for the end of the universe.

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Perhaps, though, being alive, existing, is romance and love enough. May the "stars" forever shine!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

POEMS for LENT • PLUME


"Plume" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"For years / it may be locked / in the matrix / of silt and sand / like a photo- / graphic image" and "this beautiful / movement / fanning / between interstices / feathering / void to void" —from "Plume" by Kathleen Flenniken, as found in Plume

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I am constantly amazed that as a species we think we can control and contain things. We think we can control and contain the divine that is breathed into our clay vessels. We think we can control and contain politics and culture. And in "Plume," as in the real world, we think we can control and contain nuclear waste.

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Yet we can control and contain nothing. Even ourselves most of the time.

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In "Plume," Kathleen Flenniken adopts a column for the shape of poem. Like in Komunyakaa’s “The Towers,” the form is important to the structure of the poem. Unlike the majority of poems in Carson's Red Doc>, Flenniken handles the form well. Her hand is present and visible in the line breaks, which lend the poem a movement similar to the what the words of the poems themselves capture.

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The poems of Plume, as a collection, are both a love song and an elegy to the people and places (and primarily the Hanford Nuclear Reservation and the Tri-Cities) of the Atomic Age. These poems are personal, with Flenniken's father working at Hanford and then, later, Flenniken herself.

But "Plume" is the poem that universalizes the collection for me. It conveys the poison that we have planted in the earth. It deals in half-lives and longevities that are difficult for me to imagine.

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"Plume" is a matter of scale.

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"Plume" is a matter of structure, and that all structure will fail and decay.

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May God have mercy upon our souls.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

POEMS for LENT • MYSTERION


"Mysterion" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"Mysterion is / never elsewhere, ever looms, indivisible / and here, and compasses a journey one / assumes as it is tendered on a spoon." —from "Adventures in New Testament Greek: Mysterion" by Scott Cairns, as found in Philokalia

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In Philokalia, Scott Cairns has five "Adventures in New Testament Greek" poems scattered throughout the first two sections of the collection. These poems examine theological terms—metanoia, hairesis, nous, mysterion, and apocatastasis. I originally intended to read "Adventures in New Testament Greek: Metanoia" since it covers the very Lenten concept of metanoia, "turning back," repentance. But it didn't have any good imagery, being too cerebral, too abstract.

By contrast, "Adventures in New Testament Greek: Mysterion" has more concrete imagery, but I couldn't quite capture it. So, instead, I attempted to draw what is hidden yet right in our midst, and what felt true to Cairns's poem. I drew how I envision the Lamb from the book of Revelation.

I've taken a few liberties with the vision of John of Patmos. There are still seven eyes, but there are no (seven) horns. And there are not seven "lamps" but three candles, a trinitarian representation. Additionally, as per one of my "black psalms," Lamb is a lampstand!

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This Lamb is mysterion—a paradox, a mystery, a balance of opposites. The Lamb is a sacrifice, a bearer of suffering, just as the goat of "Buzkashi," just as the cow of "The Winter Cow."

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There are things we cannot understand, that we cannot intellectually apprehend, but that we can experience, that we can "feel" on some level. Even though we cannot comprehend them, we can encounter their manifestations in the world of the enfleshed and tangible.

Like in the language of poems. Or in religious rituals. Or in art.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

POEMS for LENT • THE WINTER COW


"The Winter Cow" by Troy's Work Table.

Sidewalk chalk wash, sidewalk chalk, chalk pastels, and charcoal pencil on 12" x 12" concrete board.

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"The cow stood to be milked. She had to. / She had to last until May since the milk / was needed." and "The body is a great boat that knows the way / through iced blue distances." —from "The Winter Cow" by Nance Van Winckel, as found in No Starling

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Last night, I was at a literary event—a series of featured readers, followed by an open mic—which was also the three-year anniversary of Creative Colloquy. The first half of the literary celebration (and shenanigans) was guest emceed by Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall. He was giving away prizes to those who correctly answered poetry-related questions he posed.

He asked the audience of about 90 people to name one of the previous Washington State Poet Laureates. I waited a few seconds to see if anyone would raise their hand. No one did, so I raised my hand and answered, "Kathleen Flenniken." Mr. Marshall awarded me a bottle of Lantern Brewing Dubbel ale and a copy of No Starling by Nance Van Winckel for my response.

I started reading as soon as I arrived home.

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There is horror in this poem. The cow that we meet has had her hooves amputated due to extreme cold, and, I would assume, frostbite and gangrene. But she needs to be kept alive until the spring. This is the abject horror of existence in the face of absolute suffering.

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There is also horror in the utilitarian function that the cow serves as she transforms grass and grain into a "white froth" through her digestive processes.

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There is beauty in this poem. The boy that we meet treats the cow with as much tenderness as he can muster in the face of the horror he confronts. He still has to milk the cow, for she serves a purpose, but he can act as a salve to the suffering. There is extra hay fed to her on a couple days each week. The boy tries not to topple the cow as he works.

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I can’t help but think of the Norse creation myth. In this scene of cow and boy, I hear echoes of Auðumbla and Ymir emerging out of the primordial ice.

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Like the poem "Buzkashi," I won't be forgetting this poem any time soon. It is haunting me and I anticipate that it will continue to do so.

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I imagined the cow as a cave painting done by ancient ancestors and then "vandalized" by modern street artists and the geometric shapes of our age.