Sunday, June 05, 2005

Singular Statements

Some think it difficult to write paragraphs containing one hundred words without repetition, but composing examples seems trivial. Others may stumble over profligate use of passive voice, which, though a common academic practice, usually produces dense, pointless or confusing drivel. Keeping prose active, choosing verbs that move things along, reduces redundancy, avoids verbosity, increases clarity and simplifies communication. Short sentences also help allowing more flexibility in your vocabulary. Can such strangely constructed content retain meaning? Yes! Good discipline combined with thoughtful grammar creates an elegant, lucid style. Political discourse could benefit if we limited demagogues similarly. Imagine briefer speeches. However, thesaurus sales would rise.


He stretches his legs, waking from a doze in the warm afternoon sun. Life is good. There's not much to do today but eat and sleep. He stretches again. His joints crackle slightly. He wipes his face and picks up another tasty snack. Then he hears the noise. It's like thunder but it's more sustained. "Will it rain?" he wonders. The sound fades then gets louder as if it is moving further away and then returning. Each cycle it sounds a little closer. He takes another bite. The noise increases, shaking the ground. "What could it be?" he thinks. Then the leading edge of a disk shape starts to block the sun. He scrambles to get out of the way but it is too late. Beneath the disk, four huge metal bars are attached to a central hub. They are spinning ... fast. The updraft is powerful. He grabs onto something and tries to keep from being sucked upward. He sees others flying up to get crushed by the blades their body parts swirl in a bloody cyclone. His grip loosens and he flies upward to meet the invader. A blade catches him in the midsection but he grabs on, only to watch the lower half of his body, crushed and severed, fly into the whirlwind and disappear. For an instant more he keeps his grip on the blade, and then he too is gone. The disk shape moves on. The sun shines down on a scene of utter devastation. Body parts lie strewn in the grass. The blood puddles before soaking into the soil. There is his top half. A flicker of life remains. He twitches and sees the green carapace of his front legs move. His compound eyes view one last mosaic of the world, and then he dies. And that my dear is why I am philosophically opposed to mowing lawns.


I have watched her for days through the intermittent flutter of her curtains. She wears a white cotton nightgown with lace at the neck, buttoned up tight to her throat. One hundred strokes every night without fail. Her dark hair unbound takes the brush like a lover takes a caress. She turns out her light, leaving me with the moon. I feel its pull. The fluid in my veins rising in a red tide, humming in my ears. Tonight I shall visit her. As dry as a leaf I flutter in the wind ... and in the window ... and wait in the corner of the room. I am the shadow of a branch, the movement of a cloud across the moon. I wait. Her breath is quiet. She is still. A flutter of the curtains and I move skittering across the floor. I am the shadow under her bed. She moves gently on the bed above. I smell her rich and warm. I am the shadow of a cloud between her face and the moon. I inhale her sweet exhalation. I exhale her next inhalation. She sleeps deeply now. She sleeps until I leave. Still I am gentle as I pull back the covers. Still I am gentle as I lift the nightgown. Still I do not touch her as I lean close to smell all the secret odor, to feel the warmth radiating from the special places where her fluid, like mine, rises to the moon's pull. I part her legs and leaning closer listen to the pulse in the femoral. and follow it up to the heart. Enough. I am taking too much pleasure. I close her legs and cover her. I turn her face away from me, brusquely, but wait ... That sweet gentle venous pulse. So dear, so sweet. I stop and kneeling lay my cheek against the gentle throb. It beats against my skin like a lullaby. For a moment I sink almost to sleep. Then the pang hits. Sharp. Oh if touch were enough . . . But, I lean in, and gently pierce, drawing one drop, and rolling on my tongue the taste of life in one precious globule, that is not red to me, but black forever under the moon.

Mojo Hand

Going around and around in circles, Trying to break free ... but no direction insight. Sitting typing words into glowing embers of phosphorus, instead of singing my stories across a fire, into the rising smoke. I need a mojo hand I need a power that has slipped away from me again. I need an analogy that will let me describe why I am lost. I am trying to sing the blues in a sensory deprivation chamber. I am trying to write an epic in sound bites. I am trying to capture emotion in magnetic pulses. It feels wrong. Have my synapses been eroded by chemicals? Or have they never really been there? I seem to remember being close, but I can only remember the sensation with longing. I remember cultivating dithyrambs like wildflowers, but now I can’t get past the serried rows of tulips ... all alike, all alike.

Circles of Hell

A grid of colored blocks floats behind the screen. The movement of my hand on a block of plastic sends a small black arrow skittering a trail of green. I try to divorce the thought that this is too drastic a separation between mind and hand. Where is the block of ink, the bamboo brush? Digital ink spills, smears across the glowing medium, yet not a drop on my fingers to remind me of a thoughtless moment, a soundless sound. Where is Giotto's skill when perfect circles spread with the ease of pebbles dropping in a pond? Perfection and perfection and perfection . . . The tool is not the problem, it is the eye which no longer cares for content but for repetition, infinite generations of perfect circles, in their unyielding sameness.


Someone once challenged me to write a poem in which no words were repeated. This was the result: Words are bread, some poet said, We butter them with rhyme. Ideas live though his body's dead, An orphaned soul of time. A dictionary he once used Now open on this table Dirty, dog-eared, ripped abused These lyrics to enable. Jingling verse, vile critics curse, As nutritively nil. But, they won’t fill an empty purse. I’ll take their bitter pill If doggerel’s a loaf of wry And heavy in your belly Please sacrifice, just eat it dry. My brain has turned to jelly. Other poems in the churn May smoother spread but when Jingles can three pennies earn That makes me push a pen.

The Frog Pond

That's the wading pool In Boston Commons. The benches are green and hot Under the midday sun. The pool has been drained. Waves of heat rise from it, Making the tree trunks wriggle As if made of gelatine. From out of the shadows A man appears. He is in his thirties, clean-shaven, Wearing a grey pinstripe business suit, And a power tie, carrying a brown leather briefcase. He puts the briefcase on a bench, on its side, Takes off his jacket. Carefully he folds it inside out. He is wearing yellow suspenders, Bright against the blue of his shirt. He lays the jacket on the briefcase, Unbuttons his collar, And pulls at the knot of his tie Loosening it a half an inch Or so. He stares at the jacket For a moment as if receiving Final instructions. He turns and walks briskly into the middle Of the dry cement pond. He turns again facing his approach. Hooking his thumbs under the yellow suspenders He begins to sing loadly. “He rocks in the treetops all day long, Hopping and bopping and singing this song . . . “ He sings 'Rocking Robin' all the way through. He messes up a lot of the words. He walks back to his briefcase, Puts on his jacket, And quietly walks back into the city

Cold Spring

Written April 23, 1998 Boston is chilly today. A dark overcast hangs low over the city. Some less hardy souls have re-established their relationship to their topcoats, but I, having shucked the things of winter, refuse to backslide. Let it flurry, let it blizzard. I am in shirtsleeves until October. My double espresso firmly in hand, I stroll into the Common. The corner at Tremont and Park Streets is busy with vendors setting up their stands, leafletters replacing the litter still being picked up by the groundskeepers, and petitioners carrying clipboards like bucklers into their political holy wars. The pale green of freshly opened leaves flutter against the sky, the contrast is a natural op-art effect achingly bright against the retina. People bustle by rushing to work. I'm in no hurry. I sit on a bench to drink my coffee. Squirrels dash across the grass between trees and across the paths between pedestrians. The pigeons look depressed. They know the cold weather means less crumbs for them this morning. Nobody stops to sit, except me. I toss the empty paper cup in a trashcan, and stroll toward the Public Gardens. A film crew is setting up lights on the knoll. Charles Street is empty so I cross against the light and wait for three bicyclists to exit through the narrow gate with its sign enjoining visitors from using bicycles and roller skates within. Each cherry tree seems to march to a different drummer this year. The large tree just inside the gate has bloomed and gone by, a smaller one nearby has lost half of its blossoms, but the tree across the lagoon is glowing pink against the granite sky. The lagoon has been drained cleaned and refilled for Spring. The dock is empty, the Swan Boats still in storage. Around a turn in the path there is a park bench which faces away from me. It is packed end to end with small bodies, short legs gaily swinging under the bench. The gray hair above bright quilted jackets tells me that it's the Chinese grandmothers, five old ladies who sit in the park every morning talking and laughing at passers-by. I run the gauntlet of their comments, wishing once again that I knew Chinese. (What is it about me that they find so freshly amusing every morning?) The automatic sprinklers are on in the daffodil beds. A golden retriever stops and sticks his head into the spray. Some green fluorescent silly string clings to the base of the statue of Sumner implying some strange late night hilarity was had by someone. I cross Arlington Street, then Boylston, stroll another block, put on my work face and open the door.

Make Way

In Spring, before they put the swan boats out, The lagoon in the Public Gardens is drained. Miniature bulldozers scrape up The detritus of the previous summer. It is early morning, so early that A triple espresso seems barely enough To last the hour. A yellow haze around the willow trees Across the lagoon, is a halo of rebirth. The trees are budding. Within days the yellow will darken to green. My life rhymes with green Caffeine Nicotine Dexedrine But I digress. A movement attracts the eye. Slogging through the mud and garbage At the bottom of the lagoon is a fat, old lady. She is Chinese. She waves a plastic shopping bag like a flag. Brandishes it like a war banner. She is chasing a duck across the bottom of the lagoon. The duck moves just fast enough to stay out of her grasp, It doesn’t seem worried At the prospect of being dinner. I look over my shoulder at the bronze statues Of the duck and ducklings From 'Make Way ...' One is missing.

An Unfulfilled Passion

Long ago and far away (oh, my best beloved) there was a student of limited resource and capacity. He lived in the vale of Washington University, set about by phallic symbols made of the teeth of elephant children. These towers protected the land from the intellectual desert of St. Louis.

At night, he huddled in a small cave hung with posters and mobiles, and eye-catching items of more than oriental splendor. But when the sun rose, he placed upon his back the coat of morning and ventured forth in his guise of "The Elementary Penguin", to tell stories and soothe the hallucinatory dreams of those who had eaten of the mushroom or tasted the blotter.

One day the Penguin was seated in the cool shade of the student union (a coming together which was devoutly to be hoped for), contemplating navels other than his own, when he noticed a creature that resembled a long hairy ... ummm ... let us say 'sausage' (best beloved). The creator of all things had seen fit to place short stubby legs upon this animated sausage, two before and two behind. Above the forelegs rose a head that seemed too big for the rest of the creature.

The Penguin regarded the creature with 'satiable curiosity, wagering with himself as to the moment that the head would overbalance the body and, pivoting on its forelegs, the wiener dog Max (for indeed it was that very animal) would tip forward and flip end over end down the slope which led down from the student union to the swamp known as 'the residential halls'.

But as he studied Max he realized that there was indeed a counter-balance dangling from the rear of the creature. A counter-balance which even in repose seemed to clear the ground by only the faintest fraction of the smallest fragment of an inch. Sipping from the potent caffeinated beveraqe which was his usual if not sole sustenance. He watched the animated sausage at play in the field, and pondered the irritation and pain that would be the lot of an extruded member so proximal to the ground.

As the sun rose higher, the Penguin recorded the approach of a long-haired female, more of Max's persuasion than of the Penguin's, yet extraordinarily different. The Penguin muttered "is Timmy in the well?" under his breath.

Max had become aware of the presence of the female and turgidly produced a pink sausage that seemed to cling remora-like to its supporter. It did, as the Penguin winced to recognize, drag along the ground, scraping through stones, sand and grass clippings leaving a shallow ditch. The Penguin, as was his wont, took a simple-minded delight that the word ditch appeared in relation to the female, and immediately started casting about for other rhymes.

She, in the meantime, had found some shade beneath a dying maple and lay there panting, overheated in a multiplicity of ways. Max, with his enormous pink plow, furrowed the field as he slipped up behind.

He attempted. The lass looked over her shoulder with disdain and dislodged the intruder through the simple expedient of standing up. She moved to another patch of shade, but Max came grooving through the fields to try again ... and again ... and again. After thirty minutes the field looked like a trigonometrician's blackboard. Max's excitement was intense and he had been leaving trails of genetic material in the furrows. The penguin pondered this, realizing that to the vector belong the spills.

At last more in furrow with his hanger, Max watched as the object of his affections trotted away to find a more private place to repose. The Penguin watched as Max's spirits wilted. Sadly, that was all that wilted, and for some time the animated weiner wandered forlornly, leaving a map of his sorrow.

The Penguin ordered an iced drink poured it into a bowl, placed it on the ground and called Max over. He wondered which end would be in the bowl. Max lapped at it gratefully and the Penguin enjoyed a Cat Stevens moment for he had provided 'tea for the tillerdog'.