Wednesday, January 27, 2010

buckwheat dumplings

I applied for a job today. I have been applying for various jobs in the Santa Cruz area since we've moved down. My writing is going well and some money might come in from it in the coming months, but I'd prefer to be working down here as well. Work provides purpose and people as well as money. A job is the easiest way into a place. I have been quite lucky on with my jobs over all.

But jobs are few and far between here and my resume is unconventional. I was really excited about a ranch hand job-- it was mostly feeding horses and cleaning out stalls-- work I know how to do and would be glad to do, but they didn't even call! Damn Mexicans taking my jobs!

I was wallowing a little today and had a good bout of staring-at-the-ceiling. When I came downstairs (down ladder?) and dissolutely checked craigslist I saw a posting for fancy cafe/take out help nearby and checked them out. They are part of the Alice Waters empire, and the food does look exciting and the place cozy and cute. So I dashed-off a cover letter but also compiled some of my menus from my various cooking events to try to razzle-dazzle 'em. I really should keep a journal. But I thought I'd post the descriptions on the ole blog because, well, who is going to stop me?

Christmas '09
Christmas Goose with kumquats, drizzled with a prickly pear reduction
Neapolitan Mashed Potatoes with red potato, sweet potato, and purple yam
Daikon Radish Salad with shaved fennel and mandarin
Mushroom Goulash with buckwheat dumplings
Cranberry Apple Compote
Blanched bok choy & shallots with fresh cucumbers in a sriracha sauce

Homebrew BBQ
Stuffed Squid marinated in our own Belgian Saison beer
Irish Soda Bread with horseradish butter
Grilled Fig Salad with pomegranate and queso fresco

6th Anniversary Meal
Fresh Black Tobikko and Ikura served on baguette with butter
Opah Poached in Viognier, lime and butter, served on a bed of charred lipstick peppers and green onions, garnished with a kumquat medley
Ruby Crescent Potatoes Au Gratin with bacon, squid, and wild porcini mushrooms
Buckwheat Salad with watercress and yogurt
Homemade Bing Cherry Ice Cream

And a few other dishes just to round it off:

Barley Jambalaya with Sourdough Pancakes and homemade Meyer Lemon Marmalade
California chili with artichokes hearts and chickpeas
Roasted Pork Loin with rhubarb-Gorgonzola sauce on a bed of dandelion greens

Thursday, January 21, 2010

an honest American poet

In the suddenness of my research of Hayden Carruth, I discovered this essay on his poetry and the quality of his friendship by, of course, Wendell Berry and the following response to an invitation to the White House in 1998.

April 7, 1998

President and Mrs. Clinton
The White House
Washington, D. C. 20500

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Clinton:

This is to acknowledge your invitation to attend a "Millennium Evening" at the White House in celebration of American poetry on April 22nd. Thank you for thinking of me. However, it would seem the greatest hypocrisy for an honest American poet to be present on such an occasion at the seat of the power which has not only neglected but abused the interests of poets and their readers continually, to say nothing of many other administratively dispensable segments of the population. Consequently, I must decline.

Yours sincerely,

Hayden Carruth


There is so much bitterness, irony, and sheer playfulness in this terse, formal reply... the fruits of honesty perhaps.

Make Slim Pickins Proud

Olga, in her science journalism adventures, stumbled across this fun toy. Enter the coordinates of your choice, choose a bomb and/or asteroid, account for wind, and enjoy a simple description of your blast radius. Yeee-haw!

Labor pains

A beautiful poem by a poet of whom I was just made aware. What would I be had I a proper education? Stay 'til the end.

Emergency Haying
by Hayden Carruth

Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we've put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My hands are torn

by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
on two points of pain in the rising
monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

Well, I change grip and the image
fades. It's been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
Now is our last chance to bring in
the winter's feed, and Marshall needs help.

We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
to the barn, these late, half-green,
improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 pounds

or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
across the field, tossed on the load, and then
at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

and distributed in the loft. I help –
I, the desk-servant, word-worker –
and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
I think of those who have done slave labor,

less able and less well prepared than I.
Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
her father in the camps of Moldavia

and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
too bloodied cannot bear

even the touch of air, even
the touch of love. I have a friend
whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

in September our New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we're thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

in their first color. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who

if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Many hotels are run successfully without it

This is an excerpt from an early 1900 history of Iowa. I was going to just post the Indian section, for being so well-meaning, so wrong, and so sad. But then I saw the temperance rant that ended the chapter previous and decided the irony was too much.

I think Satan was some better tools at his disposal than drink, don't you?

Forty years ago as has been before said, all the people in this region of
country were accustomed to use intoxicants as a beverage. Liquor was
freely used at the polls on election day. The several candidates furnished
it for their friends, and it was not uncommon to see men drunk, fighting
drunk and noisy, before the polls closed. Here and there at the boat
landings along the river, whisky was kept for sale, and the imbibers
thereof were wont to frequent these places for social merrymaking. Broils
and fights, and reckless smash-ups, were not uncommon. Whisky used to be
termed a good creature of God, but time has shown the fallacy of such a
statement. For if Satan has any one tool more pliant, skilful, Satanic,and
more destructive of all good than any or all others, it is Alcohol. It
blunts conscience, and prompts to the commission of crime; it beats
mothers and beggars families; it ruins character and destroys souls; it
poisons the body and crazes the mind; it drags down the talented and noble
and plunges them into the ditch. Murder, robbery, theft, adultery, anger,
malice, blasphemy and the whole catalogue of crimes are incited and warmed
into life by this fell destroyer. But much has been done to curtail this
evil. It is made unchristian to use it, make it or sell it. It has
disappeared from the public gaze. It finds no place in the most genteel
families. Many hotels are run successfully without it. Elections are
conducted quietly and honestly and honorably without it. In no case is it
indispensable. In most it is decidedly hurtful. Temperance has made
decided advances. Great changes have occurred for the better in the past
fifty years. May we not hope that intemperance will yet be banished from
the land?


THERE are no adults among us, and few children, who have not heard of
Indians as dangerous creatures - a strange people to be greatly feared;
but many children have never seen an Indian. Some years ago a Pawnee
Indian boy named "Ralph" attended school here in Tabor. He dressed, and
played, and talked, and studied, and recited his lessons just like other
boys. The United States government removed the Pawnee tribe years ago to
the Indian Territory, and Ralph went with them. Geo. B. Gaston and wife
lived several years among the Pawnees in Nebraska, and became deeply
interested in them, so that some of them visited in Tabor more than once.
When we first came to Iowa, forty years ago, Indians lived just across the
Missouri river from us, and when the river became frozen across in the
winter they frequently came over on the ice. Some unprincipled white men,
who kept whisky and drank of it themselves, would give it to the Indians,
and sometimes they got drunk, and then it crazed them and made them
dangerous, just as it does white men. Drunken Indians came to a house in
California City in Mills county once, more than thirty years ago, when the
men happened to be away from home, and the women shut the door against
them. When they could not get in, one of them attempted to shoot through
the open chinks at the side of the door with his bow and arrow; but no
sooner was the arrow-point inserted between the logs than Mrs. Cordelia
Clark Martin, with great decision and prompt presence of mind, seized it
and snatched it out of his hand. Mrs. Cordelia C. Hinton probably retains
that arrow to this day. as a souvenir of the perils of the past. Baffled
in their endeavor to enter that house, they went to other houses, and made
themselves so disagreeable generally that some of the party were killed
before they recrossed the river into Nebraska. So Alcohol proves to be the
apt tool of Satan for the destruction of man kind, whether he be white, or
red, black, brown, or yellow.

Many still live in Fremont county to whom the Indian trails or paths, that
wound over the hills and through the vales, from grove to grove and from
stream to stream, were as familiar, if not as numerous, as are the roads
that accommodate the traveling public now. Indeed their camp fires were
still burning when some among us first came to Fremont county. The forks
and poles which formed the frames of their dwellings, and the bark which
covered them, reminded us often of the singular race that had so recently
disappeared. No history, then, of the county would be complete without
some account of the native tribes which preceded the white man on this

A feeling of sadness involuntarily steals over us as we contemplate the
waning glory of the nations that once with elastic step,proud mien and
brave hearts chased over these beautiful prairies herds of innumerable
buffaloes, stealthily pursued the bounding deer and graceful antelope, or
more leisurely fished in the rivers, streams and lakes, or waylaid the
numberless birds of passage that vibrated between their summer and winter
homes - nations that displayed their military prowess in sanguinary tribal
conflicts on the field of battle. Strong nations have dwindled to
insignificant bands in their retreat before the influx of the Anglo-Saxon
race, until they may fittingly adopt the poet's sad strain:

"They wast us! Aye, like April snow
In the warm noon we shrink away;
And fast they follow as we go
Toward the setting day."

to wrest from the oppressor his victim

Last week there was a rally at the state capital in Kansas by supporters of the Tenth Amendment Movement (which is distinct, I think, from the Tenth Amendment proper, which all of us, unless tyrannically ruling the Union, implicitly support by not tyrannically ruling the Union) and this was the first I had heard of it.

I honestly don't know much about the history of the movement. I imagine it has much in common with the 'tea party' folks and all that rabble-rousing in town hall meetings over health care. It seems pretty fucking clear that the movement, as it stands now, is just a way to express 'revolutionary' distaste for Obama's policies.

Which is a shame, not because they don't like Obama--fuck that guy-- but because they've hijacked a potentially very interesting debate that could be happening on the role of states vs. the federal government, a small hobby horse of my own for a while.

My basic idea runs thus:

Hey, let's limit power of all kinds!

Or at least think about it.

I don't know. The more I think about politics the muddier everything becomes. Why is so much of liberal thought based on the idea of a strong central government? That seems to go back to monarchy on one side and Marxist control of production on the other. Neither really worked out very well, and no liberal really wants to imitate either model. Is there a credible alternative vision? If there is, I haven't heard of it.

Now, the liberal tradition, which it's preference for a powerful centralized protector of liberty (from who?) is distinct, in my mind, from various Leftist movements that, when not actively aligned with the socialist or communist ideals, are generally against the centralized consolidation of power. Or is that just my own personal interpretation? Maybe the Left is made of wittle baby Castros, I don't know.

And the Right is equally compromised. Theoretically opposed to a strong central government unless they are in office (also weird, they want a weak central government but a BIG STRONG leader like Reagan or Bush...) while providing an umbrella for all kinds of racism and xenophobia.

And all this energy devoted by kind, brave, sincere, passionate people on both sides to simply discredit the other side so that their side can finally fix everything. This has been going back and forth for some time now. Did anyone ever fix it?

But why are we even still stuck with this 'grand experiment?' I don't think it worked, I don't think it's working, I don't think it's going to work. I think we done fucked up.

Let's try to devote some time to thinking up new communities, new possibilities, that learn from the excesses of this representative democracy. Is this really the best we can do?

Eh. I hate this post. I need to get out of the house.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

contention continued

First, a fun slight alteration of a translation from Nerval:

"This life is a shithole and a whorehouse. I am ashamed that God should see me here."

The version I found said 'hovel' and 'house of ill-repute' which I just don't believe can be accurate.

The in-laws were dispatched without incident. Our little shack was approved of, our food was prepared and eaten with pleasure (sour-dough pancakes and barley jambalaya, oddly enough) and I missed most of it because I've come down with some sniffles. So I threw myself at some prose but my foggy head produced little of value.

As I was saying, prose poetry, according to what few rules are (mostly) agreed upon, should look like prose but magically be something different, although what, exactly, no one knows.

Both prose writers and poets tend to scapegoat the prose poem for this vagueness, but scapegoating is exactly what it is. The trouble is, no one is really able to define either prose or poetry, especially poetry. Prose can always fall back on its 'Hey, we don't use line breaks okay!' Poetry, however, being on shakier ground, usually resorts to socio-political theory to explain that if we think it sucks, we voted for Reagan. (My political reference is dated but so are most of these poetic movements.)

And the ubiquity of MFA programs for writing ensures-- insert rant against MFA programs here.

Anyway, I'm gonna fix everything. Aren't you glad? Shit, I am. (Also, I've been drinking this 'yogi tea' which is pieces of various tree barks and peppercorns and cinnamon and ginger that you boil for my cold and I think it has other odd properties...)

Now, bear in mind that most of what I am about to say has been discredited variously throughout literary history-- or, rather, bear in mind that I know that.

I think that certain modes of thought have inherent and natural forms of expression. Political argument, argument generally, expresses itself most easily and perhaps most forcefully in prose.

Evocation of the undefinable, whether varieties of love or God or nausea, finds itself most comfortably in poetry.

Time is also an easily divisive quality. Prose deftly creates the sense of time's passage, either slowly or abruptly, while poetry has at least a foot in the timeless.

Through the accumulation of these formal properties and their, to my mind, natural alignment (which is not to say they can't switch sides with powerful results) I'd like to create a kind of compass by which to navigate my ideas about text, and also create a kind of living map, via these prose poems, as a record of those explorations.

What makes this (i.e. the two pieces I've already posted) prose poetry is that it contains 'unbroken' prose elements and exists at the boundaries of prose space. The presence of the page, of the prose rectangle, defines how the prosy and lyrical play together. They are, perhaps, something like sculpture, half painting, half drama.

While all this may sound airy and theoretical it is really just the explication of my ambivalent, ambidextrous, ambiguous relationship to reading and writing. I've never fit comfortably into any genre of writing and I was never pruned or trained to believe anything about it by those who know better. The epic poem, the novel, the lyric, philosophy, tragedy, journalism, comedy-- none of these forms have ever moved me as such, but when any written work undoes me (which is how it feels, like I have been split, pared, unraveled, and have to begin all over again) as each of these have, it all feels the same.

It feels like a human being with rare gifts groping past the edge of their abilities.

In short, I think that each idea, each phrasing, each story, etc, had its own form. I'm trying to draw out these possibilities and the prose poem is how I think this can best be expressed.

Tall order.

my comma problem and yours

I do have a comma problem but this post is not about that, it is about prose poetry and the perversity of my instincts.

There's a physical law yet to be named but it goes like this. The fewer people that care about any given topic or medium of art or scholarship, the more vicious and unyielding are the differences within its community.

I am, as you may all attest, a peace loving man. So it is certainly not from a love of combat or word-bludgeoning my weaker opponents into inchoate babbling followed by cellar-light vows of vengeance that I am interested in prose poetry.

Which is a very contentious subject indeed. Many poets and readers of poetry claim it doesn't even exist. People who don't read poetry are even less likely to read prose poetry. There is currently just one journal that specializes in it, though others do accept submissions. Which means that, what, maybe three people out of ten thousand actively read poetry. Which puts readers of prose poetry at <1 out of ten thousand, by my quick and dirty math. The numbers are probably actually far worse.

Which is not really that important to me. What is important is that what I am actually writing, the form of engagement with poetry and prose in these pieces, are likely not even to be accepted as prose poems by the few people who care. There are many, many accepted formal definitions, but they almost all agree that a prose poem should *look* like prose but *be* something else.

(Shit! My in-laws are a half an hour away! Gotta clean the bathroom... and myself...)

To be continued...

Friday, January 15, 2010

brought up short

Our route grew like
over the sea granite
as we moved across the rocks and sand with the
sweep of centuries.

You spoke of beauty
taking the fabric between finger and thumb and I
began to warily discourse, rabbinical as I am able, on
the topic that rests like an explosive behind my heart.

I thought: the edge of the ocean is her bridal veil.
White lace on the face of the waves.

And I thought: or a horse brought up short and
foaming to go on.

We may be made known to each other. The imperfect
sphere of our perception may be passed from my
hand to yours. We may pronounce in chorus:

“The ocean is beautiful.”

But I am plainsman born
an inheritor of ruins

The conduit of awe
the ennobling terror
gone from there to its ghetto

the ocean
a horse brought up short
and foaming to go on
raging and halt at her edges
for hers is an endless thirst
to wed
to range
to run.

Oh to loose her from stable
to rain beauty like sparks
across the widower plains
across Kansas--

How better to spend a day at the beach than with a
beautiful girl, a bitter past, and apocalypse.

An ugly victory

After trawling through some dreaded html tutorials, I was able to approximate my intentions, so I posted a prose poem. The font turns out strange, but I actually like it.

Thanks to those who offered support, including one Hale True who is less than a year old and already knows more about computers than I do, mainly because it showed a tacit willingness to read such things.

Do check out Hale True's blog. There is video of him chasing a laser pointer. It made me laugh until I cried.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I renounce evil powers.

I really liked this essay by Garrison Keillor. Perhaps we can celebrate an 'inner republican' day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

oh my beautiful formatting!


This format won't allow my formatting, or at least not with the limited tools in my possession (e.g. "cut" and "paste") so until or unless I can figure out how to post my prose poems as I want them, you will be spared reading them.

An Introduction to the Prose Poem

I am trying to write a prose poem a day. Mostly I accomplish some phrasing and a page or two of notes that come together over the course of other days. As a strong draft emerges I will post it.

There is not an adequate definition of prose poetry for my own formal purposes, so I am attempting to define and illustrate with some rigidity my understanding of the form in this work. I do think that prose and poetry are distinct modes for writing and thinking, but believe that most texts are composed of both.

But the most important thing, as A-- reminded a few weeks ago, is to show up for work.

Monday, January 11, 2010

chia is a verb

This is a story by my college roommate. Some of you will recognize him.

It's a story about 'manscaping.'

To put this in context, one Halloween Gavon took a rented axe to my Furbie dressed in nothing but a pair of tighty whities with "I *heart* Phil Collins" written on the ass.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


I'd like to recommend the movie Sleep Dealer to all fans of Science Fiction who also have a soft spot for labor & immigration issues. It is available on DVD.

The romantic interest/female lead is also easy on the eyes, but as we know from watching Mexican television, every woman under 50 is ridiculously attractive while every man over 30 looks like a mariachi, and if this is accurate, why they are crossing the border but we are staying here is beyond me.

Essentially, it shows a not too distant world where the global south can provide for the real American dream-- all the work without the workers. The Mexicans stay in Mexico, but telecommute to robots who pick oranges, do construction, drive cabs, etc.

The concept is top-notch, the story is occasionally maudlin, the acting is serviceable, and the direction often inspired.

--- I guess living down here has me grasping a little for friends. No reason to write this, really, save it approximates human contact. 'Hey, I saw an interesting move.' 'Really, what was it?' 'This odd Mexican sci-fi film...'

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

wince noticeably

In my continued quest to make all my interests and areas of specialty outdated, arcane, or just very odd, I came across a book called:

The Complete Book of Absolutely Perfect Housekeeping by Elinor Goulding Smith.

We visited Olga's parents in College Station Texas (Happy New Year, by the way, and Merry Orthodox Christmas!) and the title leoparded out at me from their inset kitchen bookshelves. "Hey now," I says to myself I says, "that seems like a joke."

And it is. This little book came out in 1956 and the cover, by the fantastic cartoonist Roy Doty, depicts a proper young housewife in a neat red dress and white apron with one arm cast dramatically across her forehead and the other holding a gun to a miniature house of four disastrous rooms- a burning stove, tower of laundry, etc. Doty's illustrations run throughout.

I've been going through it in order to find something to quote, but the humor builds on itself so much that, taken out of context, I worry they are a little flat. That's a fairly ridiculous worry, now that I see it written out.

On dishwashing

"Here a pet comes into his own, and you may speed the work greatly by simply placing the dishes on the floor for a half hour or so, while the animal does his share. A dog or cat is the most useful type of pet for this work. Birds, goldfish and turtles fail to perform effectively at this task.

While the dog or cat is completing his chore, you have your cue to retire for a minute to make a phone call or powder your nose, thus leaving things squarely up to your husband and children.

If this ruse won't work-- and it won't because they've all disappeared-- you may as well make up your mind that you're in for it... The hotter the water and the stronger the soap, the quicker the job will be done, and the quicker all the skin will slough off your hands. The trouble with dishwashing is that if you do it slowly you'll miss Groucho Marx but if you do it fast you'll break all the dishes. The latter is the less of the evils, and when you husband wonders why you're buying up so much new china you can honestly reply that you need it."

On Laundry

"First, throw away all your curtains. This will not only save washing and ironing time, but also taking down and putting up time, mending time, shopping time, starching time, etc. Second, throw away all your bedspreads. This will save hours of bedmaking time. They're awfully shabby anyway on account of the cat pulling off all the fringe. Third, throw away your table linens. They're old-fashioned.

You can't throw away all the clothing-- at least not if you're going to continue living in the same neighborhood-- but there are steps to be taken to cut down on the quantity. Every time you see one of your children taking a clean T-shirt, slap his hand. Every time your husband takes a clean pair of socks, wince noticeably. You might give up darning for a while, too. In time, they'll catch on all right. And you'll save hours of work."

And finally, Interior Decorating

"Sometimes accessories serve as conversation pieces. I don't know just what a conversation piece is for exactly, because if you and your guest can't think of anything to say to each other but 'My, what an interesting ashtray' it's my opinion that you shouldn't have invited the guest over in the first place. Why didn't you invite a friend over instead? Ashtrays are shaky foundations for an evening's conversation-- I don't care if they were part of a hubcab."

She wrote other books as well, a guide to child-rearing, and a book that includes these wonderful step-by-step instructions for building a Greek Temple.

Her husband seems a gem as well. Robert Paul Smith, author of Where Did You Go? Out. What Did You Do? Nothing, a book advocating that children be left alone more, like they used to be, so that they could invent the world for themselves.

The book with the Greek Temple instructions is dedicated very humanely "to all the people, all over the world, who drop things."