Friday Random Ten

MSNBC currently has what feels like ten thousand "end of the year" stories on its front page, and few of them are interesting in the least. We're currently trying to decide how we're going to ring in the New Year--we'll go for a combination of festive and cheesy, without a doubt, much like my random tens tend to be.

1. Peggy's Blue Skylight--Charles Mingus
2. If I Had a Million Dollars--Barenaked Ladies
3. Feeling Like I Do--Superdrag
4. Good Day--The Dresden Dolls
5. Promises--Eric Clapton
6. Never There--Cake
7. It Hurts Me Too--Henry Gray
8. May I Have a Talk With You--Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble
9. Black Snake Moan--Blind Lemon Jefferson
10. Worried Rambler--Spider John Koerner

Thursday Night Poetry

When I started this feature, I originally resolved to blog about new poets, my contemporaries, people who hopefully we'll be reading and teaching in twenty years. But tonight I'm feeling nostalgic--it's probably the whisky--and so I'm going to feature an old friend who was also the reason I chose the graduate program I did. Miller Williams.

When I started writing poetry again, after my divorce and in my second semester of college (I started late, remember?), I was writing profusely, but I had no sense of whether or not it was any good. (Today, I'm less prolific, but still have plenty of doubt.) My first creative writing teacher, Jack Bedell, was wonderful, and when it came time to go to grad school, he recommended Arkansas, and in particular, Miller. By that point, I'd read some of his work and respected it highly. More than that, it infected my work tremendously. I've gone beyond that and found my own voice now, but every so often, I'll see a Miller line creep in, and most of the time, I keep it.

So here's one of my favorite Miller poems. I'm not generally a fan of meta-poetry, but I like this one.

Let Me Tell You

how to do it from the beginning.
First notice everything:
the stain on the wallpaper
of the vacant house,
the mothball smell of a
Greyhound toilet.
Miss nothing. Memorize it.
You cannot twist the fact you do not know.

The blond girl you saw in the bar.
Put a scar on her breast.
Say she left home to get away from her father.
Invent whatever will support your line.
Leave out the rest.

Use metaphors: The mayor is a pig
is a metaphor
which is not to suggest
it is not a fact.
Which is irrelevant.
Nothing is less important
than a fact.

Be suspicious of any word you learned
and were proud of learning.
It will go bad.
It will fall off the page.

When your father lies
in the last light
and your mother cries for him,
listen to the sound of her crying.
When your father dies
take notes
somewhere inside.

If there is a heaven
he will forgive you
if the line you found was a good one.

It does not have to be worth the dying.

The Ten Worst Americans

I'm stealing a note from Farley at LGM and making my own list here. I've ripped off a couple from his list, but most of these are my own.

Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson These two are joined at the hip--they've done more to damage civil rights, equal rights, and gay rights than anyone else I can think of, and all under the guise of being men of faith. They're the reason I hope there's a hell.

Rupert Murdoch He's done more damage to modern journalism than even Paddy Chayefsky could have imagined in his worst nightmares.

Richard Nixon He was the first modern president to argue for imperial power. If George W. Bush pisses you off, Nixon's why.

Nathan Bedford Forrest Another one I'm ripping off from Mr. Farley, for precisely the same reason--he fought to destroy the union, and then fought the only good things to come out of that war.

Joe McCarthy Utterly shameless in his persecution of people who either disagreed with him politically, or who stood up for their First Amendment rights.

Andrew Jackson The genocide of native peoples at his hands is an atrocity this nation still hasn't come to terms with.

Rush Limbaugh This was a tossup between him and O'Reilly--Limbaugh's been around longer and made people like O'Reilly possible, so he gets the nod. If there's been a single person more responsible for the divisiveness of contemporary US politics, I don't know who it is. He's a liar and a hypocrite and he's been rewarded beyond the dreams of avarice for it.

Robert E. Lee More for what southerners have made out of him than for his own actions, which were bad enough in my book. The lionization of him as the epitome of southern manhood, however, has helped keed the south from coming to grips with its past for the last one hundred-fifty years.

Lou Pearlman He's the fucker who gave us the Backstreet Boys, among others.

Andrew Volstead Authored the Volstead Act, also known as Prohibition. Anyone who hates getting lit so bad that he wants to keep everyone from doing it is an asshole in every sense of the word.

Who did I miss?

I am so glad I don't watch tv anymore

The AFA wants you to boycott some new show becuse they say it mocks Christianity.

NBC is touting the network's mid-season replacement series "The Book of Daniel" with language that implies it is a serious drama about Christian people and Christian faith. The main character is Daniel Webster, a drug-addicted Episcopal priest whose wife depends heavily on her mid-day martinis.

Webster regularly sees and talks with a very unconventional white-robed, bearded Jesus. The Webster family is rounded out by a 23-year-old homosexual Republican son, a 16-year-old daughter who is a drug dealer, and a 16-year-old adopted son who is having sex with the bishop's daughter.

At the office, his lesbian secretary is sleeping with his sister-in-law.

The AFA wants people to email the president of NBC and complain, apparently because of the drug use and homosexuality--as though there's not a hell of a lot of both going on in practically every church in the country. And the comments at seem to indicate that the AFA's message is getting out.

Problem is, I don't want to watch the show, but not because I think it mocks Christianity--I think it mocks the arts of writing and filmmaking by putting out every possible clichè and then calling it "edgy, challenging and courageous." What's edgy here? That the main character is a preacher instead of a businessman? That just makes the kids more clichèd--who hasn't heard the story of the pastor's kids being hellraisers? Should a preacher be considered less insane if he's talking to Jesus and Jesus is appearing and actually talking back? I guess the gay Republican son is meant to try to get swing viewers or something, while the lesbian secretary adds balance or something--damned if I know.

The only reason I'm the slightest bit torn about whether this show succeeds or fails is that if the show tanks (as I can't help but think it will), the AFA will claim credit for killing it, as opposed to it tanking because it's founded on such a hazy premise. But I'm still not watching it.

A fabulous editorial

from a newspaper that has a reputation as being well, a bit conservative.

I'll give you the highlights, and I'll try to pick parts that Atrios didn't.

But the theory boils down to a consistent and self-serving formula: What's good for George W. Bush is good for America, and anything that weakens his power weakens the nation. To call this an imperial presidency is unfair to emperors.

Even people who should be on Bush's side are getting queasy. David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, says in his efforts to enlarge executive authority, Bush "has gone too far...."

This is hardly the only example of the president demanding powers he doesn't need. When American-born Saudi Yasser Hamdi was captured in Afghanistan, the administration also detained him as an enemy combatant rather than entrust him to the criminal justice system.

But when the Supreme Court said he was entitled to a hearing where he could present evidence on his behalf, the administration decided that was way too much trouble. It freed him and put him on a plane back to Saudi Arabia, where he may plot jihad to his heart's content. Try to follow this logic: Hamdi was too dangerous to put on trial but not too dangerous to release....

I don't know anything about this Chapman guy, but I like what he wrote here. He made my day. And if this is from a conservative paper, I have to wonder just how much support Bush has left in this country.

Happy Holidays and an early Presidential endorsement

My father-in-law told me an interesting story this morning that bugged me and showed me just how much influence assholes like Bill O'Reilly have on this country.

He's a mail carrier, and has a good relationship with the people on his route, a large number of whom are Jewish retirees. He mentioned today that he's benn loud and vocal about saying "Happy Holidays" everywhere he goes as opposed to "Merry Christmas" because he's seen the people on his route, some of whom he's known for years, cowed and stumbling over themselves to make sure not to offend him. Bob is one of the most easy-going guys you could ever meet, and he was hurt by this, so he's gone on the counterattack against the O'Reillys of the season.

Now for the second half of this post. I've decided that, barring an entry by Howard Dean into the presidential race, my early favorite is Senator Russ Feingold.

I've always liked Feingold's stands on civil liberties, as well as on the Iraq War, and the fact that he donates the difference between what he first made as a Senator and what he makes now back to the Treasury, but after reading this, I'm sold completely:

Political watchers such as University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato point out that while Feingold's recent stands on civil liberties and the Iraq war may please liberal activists, they may well hurt his chances later on with moderate Democrats and conservatives.

The senator had a blunt answer.

"I don't care," he said. "Whatever political considerations I have are absolutely irrelevant to the decisions I make having to do with people's civil liberties and something as weighty as Americans risking their lives overseas. The day that I start think politically about those things is the day I should leave politics."

Feingold for President 2008.

Friday Random Ten

The present pile is now higher than our tree, but our tree is only two feet tall, so that's no biggie. You know the drill--iTunes in party shuffle mode, the first ten songs, no cheating to save yourself embarassment. It won't work anyway--we all know you have ABBA's Greatest on repeat anyway.

1. Chinch Bug Blues--Blind Lemon Jefferson
2. Get Out the Map--Indigo Girls
3. Long Distance Runaround--Yes
4. Me and My 424--John Vanderslice
5. Police Dog Blues--Blind Snake
6. Blue Rondo a la Turk--Dave Brubeck
7. Gangsta Gangsta--NWA
8. Out On the Tiles--Blind Melon
9. Mama's Got a Girlfriend--Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
10. Build Me a Box--Bourbon Tabernacle Choir

I never really listen to that last band--I just loved the name and had to have it when I saw it.

There's a first time for everything

Michael tagged me with this little meme. What the hell.

Seven Things To Do Before I Die
1. Leave the country (just for a visit)
2. Publish a book of poetry that is reviewed in the New York Times Review of Books
3. Vote in a general election for a politician instead of against one
4. Be offered a tenure-track position in a creative-writing program
5. See George W. Bush perp-walked into a courtroom, whether before or after he finishes his term.
6. Get another advanced degree
7. Have some photos blown up and shown in an exhibition

Seven Things I Cannot Do
1. A pull-up
2. Write readable fiction
3. Read anything by Don DeLillo
4. Go back into a Kingdom Hall
5. Watch cable news without flipping off the television and/or screaming
6. Listen to death-metal
7. Sleep the night before a trip

Seven Things That Attract Me to...Blogging
1. The notion that someone, somewhere is actually reading what I write
2. It keeps me from vandalizing cars that still have Bush/Cheney stickers on them.
3. Like Michael, I wrote an editorial column in college, and this allows me to keep that feeling while dropping the occasional f-bomb.
4. The danger
5. The non-secret nature of my secret identity
6. David Hasselhoff
7. The possibility that it could cost me #4 in the first section

Seven Things I Say Most Often
1. Fuck that noise
2. Yes, you can turn it in on Tuesday instead.
3. Yes, I'll have another.
4. God, you suck
5. It might be worth it to get cable, just to watch the Daily Show and Battlestar Galactica.
6. How much longer until payday?
7. I love the academic schedule.

Seven Books I Love
1. Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright
2. Same Places, Same Things by Tim Gautreaux
3. Six Stories by Douglas Adams (The Complete Hitchiker's Guide series)
4. America by Jon Stewart
5. Collected Poems by E. E. Cummings
6. A Reader's Manifesto by B. R. Myers (not done with it yet, but damn is it good)
7. History of Art by H. W. Janson

Seven Movies I Watch Over and Over Again
1. All of Kevin Smith except Jersey Girl and Chasing Amy
2. Galaxy Quest
3. Blazing Saddles
4. High Fidelity
5. The Princess Bride
6. The Fog of War
7. Casablanca

Seven People I Want to Join In
1. Walrus (either in the comments or maybe he could start a film blog of his own? Hmmm?)
2. Amy has hers up already.
3. Alison
4. Divine Mandate
5. Stephen
6,7. I'm out of people to ask.

Thursday Night Poetry

This week is another friend from Stanford, Shane Book. Based on first impressions and the work of his that I've seen, Shane will be the poet people in the poetry world will be talking about in thirty, seventy, a hundred years, and I'm not exaggerating. He takes chances in his work--it's not the safe, stolid, workshop poetry that dominates the landscape currently. Last time I talked to him, he'd ridden out Hurricane Rita in Havana, playing dominoes and drinking twelve-year-old rum with old Cubans. He doesn't have a book out yet, but I feel pretty good about his prospects.

The One

The enormous head and huge
bulbed knees, elongated
hands and feet, don’t fit
with the filed down chest, limbs
of kindling, yet this is one
whole boy, suspended
in a cloth harness hooked
to what looks like a clock
stuck at three fifteen.
Closer, you can see it is
not a clock but a scale,
the kind you find in any North
American grocery,
but of course this is not
North America, this is
the Sahel famine, this
is Mali in 1985, where a boy
waiting for his rations
to be adjusted
must be weighed. At once
his face relays one and many
things: he could be crying out,
he could be grinning,
he could be frightened
or tired, he could believe
he is suspended in unending
dream. What starvation started
gravity refines as the boy
reclines, the hunger having
collapsed his neck, his face
staring up at the ceiling
of sticks which like most ceilings
anywhere in this world is blank.

You can read more of his poems (and listen to him read them as well) at The Fishouse.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

That's the name of a documentary made by an Irish film crew some time ago that received limited release here in the US and has never gotten US distribution. Not that I'm paranoid or anything, but I suspect there are some important people in this country who don't want it out there, mainly because it deals with the attempted coup of Hugo Chavez in 2002, and it exposes the one-sided US coverage of the event, although it does so more as an afterthought than anything else.

I remember when we came across the website for the film some time ago--we were living in San Francisco, and I wanted to see the film, but we missed it. Later, a cousin found it online and downloaded it, and we watched it in crappy quality on his desktop, but we were quite taken with it.

A few weeks ago, Amy discovered No Confidence, a blogger who felt that the film needed wider distribution than it was getting, and decided to make no frills copies available at cost. You can email him at and he'll tell you what to do. We got ours today and are currently watching it for the second time. Ten bucks.

I can't match that offer, as I don't have a dvd burner, but if you have an inbox that can handle a 700 meg file and the large amount of time it'll take to download it, I'll try emailing it to you. Sorry--my internet capability is limited, and I don't know how to host it, or if my host would beat my ass if I tried. If you need a gmail account, which might handle it, I've got plenty to give out. Leave me a request in the comments with an email address in this format: name AT isp DOT com so bots don't pick up the address and we'll work it out.

Brokeback Mountain

I can see why the right-wingers don't want to bring any extra attention to this movie. It's really, really well put together, and it's extraordinarily powerful in its message about the pain these two men go through because they feel they have to hide their true selves.

If it had been a poorly made film, then the right-wing might have stood a chance taking it on, but this is a piece of art, and anyone who watches it with even a partially opened mind will be affected by it.

It's already doing quite well at the box office, making the top ten last week despite only being in 69 theaters, and no doubt that will expand this week. We were lucky--it was playing in our neighborhood theater, which should be no surprise as they're also showing Rent, Capote, and The Dying Gaul. It's a little independent theater and we live close to Wilton Manors, so there's a bit of a gay influence on their film choices, I think--Brokeback Mountain is this place's Revenge of the Sith. We saw it at ten o'clock last night and it was pretty much packed.

But though the audience was overwhelmingly gay, this film shouldn't be shoehorned into some genre-dictated category--it will appeal to people all across the spectrum of sexuality.

No pics

But a great time had by all. I actually recognized a couple of pieces from the first time I went--the ceremonial flail and ankh, a headrest, the diadem--and that was really cool. This exhibit didn't bring over the death mask, which was a little disappointing for me, but no one else seemed to mind, so I guess I was just being nitpicky.

If you get the chance, go see the exhibit--it's worth the money.

eight hours and thirty eight minutes, and the t of course stands for Tutankhamen.

I know I've been making a big deal of this, and the sad thing is that it's liable to be a bit of a letdown since I'm building it up so much. Maybe not--Monkey is practically beside herself, and Amy's dad is coming to see it with us, so it'll be two sets of father-daughter combos tomorrow morning. I believe I'm the only one to have seen the exhibit before, when I was ten in New Orleans, the oldest of four children my mother took.

It's amazing that we went at all. My two younger cousins, probably six and four at the time, had come to live with us in Louisiana, while their parents put together a move. My parents and four kids, none older than ten, in a 14X64 foot, three bedroom trailer. I was lucky at the time, because as the only boy, I got a room to myself. That it was the smallest room in the trailer was inconsequential--until my aunt and uncle showed up, it was my room, and mine alone.

My mom took a day off of work to get my cousins their vaccinations, and since we'd handled it so well, she took us to New Orleans for the Tut exhibit. It must have been late summer or early fall, and we stood in line for probably two hours or more. I remember my mom remarking later that we were so well behaved that a lady in the line bought us Cokes to share. When we got into the exhibit, I carried my youngest cousin, Sarah, the one I share a birthday with, so she could see the exhibits up close, and the other museum goers melted away so we could get in and see it.

We lived in rural Louisiana, across Lake Pontchartrain in a place called Big Branch at the time. It's the home of a five star restaurant called La Provence and not much else to this day. There were reasonably deep woods surrounding our place, and I remember walking through them for weeks after seeing the exhibit, looking for clues to ancient burial places, wondering if there were forgotten kings in the pine trees and the clay.

There aren't any woods here, unless you count the Everglades, which swallows up civilization as soon as it dares tread foot into its domain, but maybe Monkey will have a similar feeling. She's older now than I was then, but she's far more interested in all things Egypt as well. If I can sneak a picture or two with my camera phone, I'll post them tomorrow.

Friday Random Ten

eMusic edition. Some of my recently downloaded eMusic songs have made their way into the random play list of iTunes--well, one at least--and it's on the list today. Remember, random play, and no dodging songs that make you look dumb.

1. Die Dead Die--Big Smith
2. Moanin' featuring Wayne Martin--Boozoo Bajou
3. Jumpin' Jack--big Bad Voodoo Daddy
4. Heroin--Lou Reed
5. Guitar Boogie--Stevie Ray Vaughan
6. I May Be Wrong (but I Think You're Wonderful)--Hoagy Carmichael
7. Shake 'Em On Down--R. L. Burnside
8. Closer to Fine--Indigo Girls
9. Pancho and Lefty--Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
10. Funky Malaguena--Blind Snooks Eaglin

I'd really like to see some in the comments, as I use these sorts of posts to find new music to listen to, and since I have a legit service to use now...

A gift suggestion
If you want to give a gift this season, and you want to make a donation to some pretty good folks at the same time, go over to Peace Positive and spend seven bucks on a positive statement.

Normally, this group donates 20% of the proceeds to the causes I linked to above, but for the rest of the month, they're donating everything they make. I've been looking for a bumper sticker or other political statement to make the Hyundai truly my own. I think I just found it.

Thursday Night Poetry

So I was casting about for a poet for tonight, because we're about to go to dinner with some friends and didn't have anyone particular in mind, when I found this jewel of a poem by House Democrat John Dingell. He read this from the floor of the House today, and I'm posting it here tonight for your enjoyment.

'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed 'bout which Fox News could grouse;

Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;

In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to...well...

Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;

Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger
Wake up Congress, they're in no danger!

This time of year we see Christmas every where we go,
From churches, to homes, to schools, and yes...even Costco;

What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy,
When this is the season to unite us with joy

At Christmas time we're taught to unite,
We don't need a made-up reason to fight

So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, and those right wing blogs;
You should just sit back, relax...have a few egg nogs!

'Tis the holiday season: enjoy it a pinch
With all our real problems, do we honestly need another Grinch?

So to my friends and my colleagues I say with delight,
A merry Christmas to all,

and to Bill O'Reilly...Happy Holidays.

Have a good one, y'all.

Just crown me now

Because nobody's getting between me and that trophy:

Mr Heterosexual Contest 2006
A Celebration of God's Creation

A real competition that will bring fun and laughter as we celebrate
God's design. Come be a part of the fun either as a contestant or an
audience member.

Mr Heterosexual Massachusetts
Feb 4th Sturbridge Host
Tickets for events are 10.00 ea.. limited seating at the door or
order in advance at:



Strength - how many oprah magazines can you tear?

Talent - your choice

Intellectual - answering random questions such as your favorite
heterosexual role model

Competition - name that food
...........more events to be announced.

Entry fee for competition 20.00.
Must be at least 18 to enter competition

I'm going to do them one better, though. Instead of Oprah magazines, I will destroy copies of Honcho, and my answer for every food category will be "spotted dick." And I'll still win, because I'm just that manly.

Five days

until King Tut. I'm a little excited.

In other news, I've started writing regularly again, thank Jeebus. The last few months have been brutal, but in the last couple of days, I've managed to do a bit of real work. It feels good.

Speaking of music

Right now, Amy and I are listening to a new cd by a group/dj/hell if I know named Boozoo Bajou, courtesy of I went legit, finally, and no I'm not getting paid to write this.

Here's why emusic is great.

It's cheap--ten bucks a month gets you twenty forty downloads from a library of about 600,000 songs. It's mostly indy stuff, but hey, that's where the good music is today anyway, and they've got a solid catalog of old stuff. They've also got a lot of early stuff from bands that have become popular. Want the first album from My Chemical Romance (as Monkey did)? They've got it. Green Day's first two albums? They've got it. More mainstream they don't have, but I'm not so interested in that anyway.

It's fast. I downloaded three albums in about twenty minutes (you get fifty free songs in the first two weeks before the subscription kicks in) and only had to restart one song, which leads me to the next, and I think best part.

You own the songs. No restrictions on what you do with the songs. You want to burn them to a cd? No problem. You want to load them on your iPod? Do it. No proprietary bullshit to deal with. No copy protection issues. No Sony installing back doors into your OS so they can make sure you're not doing something with the songs that they don't like. You own it--do what you want with it.

So you can expect to see some new stuff on Friday Random Ten now, and I'll have some new cd's to listen to in the car. Any suggestions for new bands to check out?

Friday Random Ten, vacation edition

You know the drill--random play, first ten songs, no getting rid of dorky stuff. Here we go.

1. Carnival Time--Professor Longhair
2. She Lets Me In--Big Smith
3. Just Like a Dog--Big Mama Thornton
4. Who Loves the Sun--Velvet Underground
5. What's So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding?--Elvis Costello
6. Bad Rapping of the Marquis de Sade--Lord Buckley
7. You Got to Move--Mississippi Fred McDowell
8. Coast of Malabar--The Chieftains with Ry Cooder
9. Brother John--Blues Traveler
10.Why Can't I Forget About You?--The Subdudes

Any list that starts and ends in New Orleans can't be all bad.

Hail the Monkey!

for she is the only person from her high school to be named to the Broward All-County Band. And she thought she'd bombed the audition.

I don't know much about this band, but she says it's primarily made up of juniors and seniors, so to be named as a sophomore is a big deal, at least from my point of view.

So congratulations to Monkey--we're all quite proud of her around here.

Thursday Night Poetry
Done for a month edition.

This is the reason I decided to teach--because once I put in my last set of grades in the morning, I'm done for a month, except for the reading I'll do to prep for the next term. God I love the academic life.

So tonight's poem is from a dear friend of mine who is currently in the PhD program at the University of Utah. No book yet, but when she gets one, look out, because she's going to set the world aflame. I've never read any other poet like her, a woman who balances formality and experimentalism on a knife's edge. The following poem was published in storySouth (where Amy will soon be published). Enjoy.


At first, whatever drought carries the fiddlebacks
inside from the salt. The old women are speaking about jasmine.

An imagined June. Are telling you what they know
about the night. That the woman

who once held the sky’s hands against her dress whispered
drowning when the sun washed red across the river—

they say she fled from backwoods to bathe in a bowl of fire.
But in truth, she walked slowly with a shawl around her shoulders,

arms folded, her husband watching from a window in the house.

You could look at it as a teaching moment?
Someone in Miami Beach has come up with an interesting way of decorating for Christmas.

Local parents are, predictably, not too pleased with the display.

"It's not healthy. I mean, if somebody has something against Santa Claus or something, maybe express it in some other way," resident Lori Vega said.

Parents are afraid the decoration will cause a nightmare before Christmas for their children.

"I'm not sure what his reasoning is, but a lot of little kids are upset by it," one parent said....

"He might be the Grinch. He might be friendly with the Grinch," resident Joanie Stein said. Stein, who has lived on the block for years, said the dangling Santa sickens him. "It's a beautiful neighborhood and I think it's just weird. I've never seen anything like this here."

I'm sort of ambivalent about it--it's tacky, but then again, so are a lot of Christmas displays, and besides, if your kids ask if that's really Santa, you can always tell them that a) Santa isn't real, b)save yourself some time and aggravation (and money) in Christmas shopping, or c) play CSI:The North Pole.

Squeezers: a Review

Heat courses through this chapbook from the very first poem, "Going to Hell."

...All of us
are headed for the crawfish pot,
hot as a seatbelt in summertime."

Having burned many a childhood love handle on the silvery backseat buckles of our '75 Dodge dart, I relate to that metaphor, as I do to most of the poems in Alison Pelegrin's latest chapbook, the aforementioned Squeezers.

As I mentioned six weeks ago when I posted another of her poems, I feel like I've been chasing Alison for a long time, but where I moved away from "calling on / Jesus, Mary, and Joseph for little things / like blue doubloons and Zulu coconuts," she moved back and is now an English teacher at our alma mater. And when you read her poems, you can't help but understand why.

Her voice is strong and sure, tone-perfect and redolent with the sounds I grew up with, and emotionally powerful. From "Letter of a Thousand Days"
Lake Pontchartrain, Tchefuncte, Bogue Falaya--
I should be more like Li Po--half-drunk, squandering
the night's best verses to the Yangtze just because.
Dad--why can't I say that when I think of you
I also think of Time-Life Books--Mysteries of the Unknown,
their commercials with a knack for interrupting
mid-brawl our weekend ritual, the Old West
Movie Marathon. I know how you remember how
the TV screen blinked back and then revealed
a teapot squealing while twins two states apart
each felt the burn. No such mind's eye sparked for you.
I was at a Christmas Party, and as I time it, you were
Crossing the Great Waters while I listened to Charmaine Neville
do Jingle Bells, Satchmo-style.

She balances her narrative with incredibly poignant metaphor, and I don't care if most people will mispronounce Tchefuncte (cha-funk-ta) or Bogue Falaya (bow-ga fuh-lie--uh)--those are the sounds of my home and childhood as well, and I think they're universal in the sense that even if you're not from here, there's something about that level of detail that resonates with your own personal experience. You can make it fit your own life if you choose.

One of the advantages of having a teaching job is that you can introduce your students to new writers. I'm teaching two Interpretations of Poetry classes next term, and we'll be reading this book, among others. I'm sure Alison won't mind the few book sales that come out of it.

Friday random ten

I seem to be a day behind this week, so I'm just going to roll with it rather than fight it. Here we go.

1. Fight For Your Right--The Beastie Boys
2. Drunken Hearted Man--Robert Johnson
3. She's So Innocent--Marcia Ball
4. Worried Rambler--Spider John Koerner
5. Snake Drive--R. L. Burnside
6. Alone--Ben Harper and The Innocent Criminals
7. I Don't Care What You Do--T-Bone Walker
8. Pasties and a G-String (at the Two O'Clock Club)--Tom Waits
9. Boogie Woogie Country Girl--Big Joe Turner
10. Satellite of Love--Lou Reed

Well, the overwhelming influence of the blues on my mp3 collection certainly came through today. Guess my iPod knows that it's finals week too.

Thursday Night Poetry
Amy did a section on war poetry with her students this term, and she discovered Dunya Mikhail and used one of her poems. Her book came yesterday and so far I have to say that I'm quite impressed. Mikhail writes in Arabic, so I want to give proper credit to Elizabeth Winslow, her translator, for getting across the terrific spirit of Mikhail's poetry--I don't think we give translators enough credit for their share of the creative process in their work. The following is the title poem to her collection The War Works Hard, winner of a 2004 Pen Translation Fund Award.

The War Works Hard

How magnificent the war is!
How eager
and efficient!
Early in the morning
it wakes up the sirens
and dispatches ambulances
to various places
swings corpses through the air
rolls stretchers to the wounded
summons rain
from the eyes of mothers
digs into the earth
dislodging many things
from under the ruins..
Some are lifeless and glistening
others are pale and still throbbing..
It produces the most questions
in the minds of children
entertains the gods
by shooting fireworks and missiles
into the sky
sows mines in the fields
and reaps punctures and blisters
urges families to emigrate
stands beside the clergymen
as they curse the devil
(poor devil, he remains
with one hand in the searing fire)..
The war continues working, day and night.
It inspires tyrants
to deliver long speeches
awards medals to generals
and themes to poets
it contributes to the industry
of artificial limbs
provides food for flies
adds pages to the history books
achieves equality
between killer and killed
teaches lovers to write letters
accustoms young women to waiting
fills the newspapers
with articles and pictures
builds new houses
for the orphans
invigorates the coffin makers
gives grave diggers
a pat on the back
and paints a smile on the leader's face.
It works with unparalleled diligence!
Yet no one gives it
a word of praise.

You can find her book here.

My Letter to the Editor

The letter I wrote on the inclusion of ID in a Broward County High School Biology text was published in the Sun-Sentinel. Click to see it.

They published Amy's too.

O'Reilly, Heal Thyself

Bill O'Reilly gets in a lather every year about this time because, well, he needs ratings help I guess or because he's an idiot or because he's not getting enough love at home. He has a very predictable hissy-fit about how Christmas is under attack from "the secular left," especially as regards the inclusion of religious icons.

Now as anyone who was paying attention last Friday knows, there isn't much Christ left in Christmas--it's all commercialism these days, and frankly, the desire to expand the number of people who will spend large amounts of money during this period is a far greater force behind the turn from "Christmas trees" to "Holiday trees" than Michael Newdow could ever hope to accomplish.

It's simple really--there's a growing non-Christian minority in this country that doesn't celebrate Christmas, and while that drives Bill O'Reilly batshit crazy, to retailers that means there's a large, untapped market of people who have no reason to buy useless shit during November and December, and that can't be allowed to continue.

But the very best part of this whole story is that while O'Reilly rants and raves about taking Christ out of Christmas, it seems that his bosses at Fox are doing just that. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the O'Reilly Factor Christmas Holiday Ornament.

I guess O'Reilly and Fox didn't like being humiliated by Olbermann--he gave O'Reilly the medal sweep in the "Worst Person in the World" contest last night--so they've since changed the ornaments to "Christmas Ornaments."

And the rednecks all get out their lighters

Even though I was never a fan, I get why Black Sabbath will get into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And even though I think they were overrated, I'll give it to the Sex Pistols as well. Blondie was one of my favorite bands from that time period--I love Debbie Harry for Rapture if nothing else--but I had very iffy taste, as I was only about 11 or so. Miles Davis deserves to get in just because he got so damn weird.

But Skynyrd? The band that defended Nixon? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about Elvis and Nixon, but he was so luded up he couldn't see straight, and besides, Elvis had more chops in his toenail clippings than Skynyrd did. Is the Hall just running out of bands or something?

This is why we have to win School Board elections

Because otherwise we're fighting idiotic craplike this:

As Broward County schools shop for a new science textbook this year, one of the options is a biology book that could plunge the district into a roiling national debate over the origin of man.

The high school text, Biology: The Dynamics of Life, says on Page 388: "Many of the world's major religions teach that life was created on Earth by a supreme being. The followers of these religions believe that life could only have arisen through the direct action of a divine force.

"Some people believe that the complex structures and processes of life could not have formed without some guiding intelligence."

That passage describes what is known as intelligent design, a concept that includes creationism -- an issue that has vexed educators for decades.

Below is my Letter to the Editor in reply. I hope it gets published.
As a parent of a Broward county high-school student, I’m very concerned that Broward county may be heading down the anti-science path toward the inclusion of the so-called theory of Intelligent Design in the science curriculum for one very practical reason—it could harm my child’s chances of getting into an elite university.

The California university system already refuses to certify courses on creationism and Intelligent Design—and they are the same thing—as meeting its entry requirements for admission, and other elite schools, including those in the Ivy League, are considering similar action. Kansas University, in response to that state’s recent decision to redefine science so as to fit Intelligent Design into the curriculum, announced that it will be teaching a course in ID, under the course title “Special Topics in Religion: Intelligent Design, Creationism and other Religious Mythologies.” Why? Because the science faculty there, as well as at every reputable university in this nation recognizes that Intelligent Design is nothing more than warmed-over creationism. It is not science, and should not be taught in a science classroom.

Should the Broward County School Board decide that they’d like to include ID in with other creation stories—Biblical, Hindu, Jewish, and Native American among others—in an elective humanities course, I’d be more than supportive. But in a world that’s becoming more competitive every day, we can’t afford to handicap our children by teaching less science instead of more. Keep ID out of the science classroom.

The article itself is crap, and it pissed me off. Lots of time was given to ID supporters, and only cursory mention to the downsides of teaching ID (like, the fact that it's not science).

But here's the reason for the title of this post:
In Broward County, science curriculum supervisor J.P. Keener doesn't see anything wrong with acknowledging religious beliefs in class.

"Some teachers are so reluctant to talk about it. I don't know why," Keener said.

"It's OK for them to talk to students and discuss philosophies and say what's the difference between a philosophy and science and religion," Keener said. "That's a great discussion. And it's worthwhile."

This is the science curriculum supervisor talking here. He's half right--there's nothing wrong with acknowledging religious beliefs in class, if it's a religion or a literature or a humanities class. But there's a hell of a lot wrong with acknowledging religious beliefs in a science class, because science and religion deal with two different worlds. Science deals with the observable, religion with matters of faith--and never the twain shall meet. And if Mr. Keener doesn't recognize that, then he needs to find himself another job, one that won't impact the scientific education of our students here in Broward County.

Friday Random Ten

Random play setting, first ten songs, no deleting or adding to try to make yourself look cool--I certainly won't look down on you if you include the dance mix of "Total Eclipse of the Heart" in your list. I swear.

1. High Hopes--Pink Floyd
2. Night Life--B. B. King
3. Molly--Deadeye Dick
4. Plenty More--Squirrel Nut Zippers
5. Everything Happens to Me--Wynton Marsalis
6. King of Swing--Big Bad Voodoo Daddy
7. Ponce de Leon--Big Smith
8. Marie Laveau--Dr. John
9. She's Waiting--Eric Clapton
10. Superstition--Stevie Wonder

Thursday Night Poetry, Thanksgiving Hangover Edition

Not really hung over, at least not in the alcoholic sense of the word--more of the binge eating sense. Still, we had a great time with friends and I spent most of the day away from my computer, so it was a very good day.

Today's poet is another old compatriot, this time from Arkansas, Sandy Longhorn. I thought about her yesterday because Amy was going through some books and she found a postcard from Sandy that one of us had used as a bookmark. I googled Sandy to see if there was any word on her--she'd been a finalist for the Walt Whitman prize a couple of years ago--and what do I discover but that she's gone and won a different prize and one based in Florida no less. No word yet on when the book will be out, but you can bet I'll get one when it does.

So here's Sandy, with a poem from the Arkansas Literary Forum:

Self-portrait: April

Dear S —

All week the small bushes pushed
out their new leaves, splashes
of bright yellow-green crowding
the low hills, breaking apart winter’s
cold patina. News of M—’s disease
last Christmas settled on my heart
like snow, the kind that stays.
This thaw is hard-pressed to clear
the ice floes in my veins.

Today, I watch from my window
as buds appear on the willows
lining the creek. I’m enclosing
one new growth, still warm, almost furry.
I lick it like a stamp, paste it to the page
still green, wondering how it will reach you.

Fun fact

The story's pretty boring as stories go--town renames itself for an internet site in order to try to make some money. The fascinating bit comes later in the article.

The towns are following a tradition established in 1950 when Hot Springs, New Mexico changed its name to Truth or Consequences after a radio program that became a TV game show.

I had no idea.

Bad press may beat a Supreme Court decision

Interesting story from the NY Times about New London, CT since the now infamous Kelo decision.

Five months after the United States Supreme Court set off a national debate by ruling that the City of New London could seize their property through eminent domain to make way for new private development, no one has been forced to leave.

No bulldozers have arrived to level the last houses still standing, and none are expected soon.

Even though the holdouts lost their case, and the development that would displace them finally seems free to go forward, construction has not begun, and some elements of the project have been effectively paralyzed since the court ruling prompted a political outcry.

Something that got lost in the shuffle over this decision, which felt wrong but followed existing precedent, is that the Supreme Court's decision essentially said that this sort of thing is supposed to be decided at the local and state level, and that the Court has no business getting involved in those kinds of decisions.

And that seems to be what has heppened here. Public outcry and outrage has slowed the process of seizing the homes. Now, it may not make a difference in the long run, but what the Kelo decision did was awake homeowners to the potential for the use of eminent domain, and they're started making it an issue for people who are running for office. And anything that bolsters local political involvement is a good thing in my book.

Changed my mind

Mainly because I got this email from my old buddy Geoff Brock. See, he won the 5th Annual New Criterion Prize a while back, and now it seems his book is shipping. So I feel it's only right to go ahead, a night late, with Thursday Night Poetry, and present the title poem from his new tome, originally published in, where else, The New Criterion.

Weighing Light

Often the slightest gesture is most telling,
as when he reaches tenderly in passing
to pluck the yellow leaf from the dark fall

of her hair, or even the absence of all gesture:
the way she doesn’t need to turn to know
who, in this gathering of friends, has touched her.

It was as if he dreamed some private garden.
Perhaps he woke from it, mid-reach, to find
his hand too near her hair in this crowded yard,

and maybe even now she’s shuttering in
(she’s even better than you or I at that)
a storm of worry and recrimination—

did anyone notice? how could he do that here!—
by seamlessly continuing to tell you
about her trip to see her favorite Vermeer

this morning in the Delft show at the Met:
“So now they say she isn’t weighing pearls
or gold or anything—it’s just the light

gleaming off empty scales.” So much is hard
to know for sure. If I confronted her,
she’d say it was just a leaf—who could afford

to disagree? Could we? Now she’s explaining
how the girl faces a mirror we can’t see into
and how behind her hands a gloomy painting

of the Last Judgment: “Over her head God
floats in a cloud,” she says, “like a thought balloon.”
But you don’t hear. You’re watching me. I nod.

Friday Random Ten--Winter Wonderland Edition

Today in south Florida, it's a freezing 75 degrees fahrenheit, with occasional rain showers and grey skies. Winter has come to my neck of the woods, and I'm still wearing flipflops.

No Thursday night poetry this week--I'm finishing a long week of conferencing with my students and I forgot amid the paper grading, and I'm not going to backdate a post for something that never gets comments anyway.

So here we go--and while I was tempted, I'm not going to sneak in SRV's "Couldn't Stand the Weather," not even ironically.

1. The Remedy--Jason Mraz
2. Bad Luck Blues--Blind Lemon Jefferson
3. Am I Right or Wrong--Son House
4. What a Good Boy--Barenaked Ladies
5. Memphis Soul Stew--King Curtis
6. No Sleep Till Brooklyn--Beastie Boys
7. The Perfect Fit--The Dresden Dolls
8. Trash--Big Smith
9. Boogie Woogie Country Girl--Big Joe Turner
10. Kill the Poor--The Dead Kennedys

A brief note
On the off chance that any of my students come by this site, let me warn you right now that if you ever call me at home, I won't be as nice as she was.

Thoughts on a bumpersticker

On my way to work today, I was cut off by a woman in a new shiny blue something-or-other. I didn't even flip her off--time in south Florida has convinced me that if I were to react as I have in the past, I would just drive down the street with my finger hanging out the window at all times.

She had this bumpersticker (which I had a chance to read since it was practically in my lap at the time) which said "Jesus was also homeschooled." So I started to wonder what she was trying to put across with that sticker.

Did she mean that she was impregnated while still a virgin and so she was homeschooling her child in order that He would be prepared to assume his duties as Savior?

Was she giving her child a special education in how to wander the land as a homeless preacher, who would be despised in his hometown, dependent on the kindness of strangers for his daily bread?

Was she hoping that her child would grow up to be wise in the ways of scripture, and yet utterly hopeless in terms of math, science, and, you know, anything else that might help him get and hold a job?

Or was she just being defensive?

I hold no brief against home-schooling in theory--as long as the state ensures the children are making adequate progress toward an education, then parents ought to be able to teach them on their own if they choose. It's not what I do, but hey--I teach other people's kids. Different strokes.

I fear, however, that many parents who home-school do so because they're fearful of the pervasive influence of the public school system and the secular world in general, and they hide behind cutesy slogans in order to justify their choices.

Oh, and on the subject of the slogan, if the Bible is to be believed, Jesus would likely have attended a community school to be versed in the Law and in basic literacy. He would not have been home-schooled.

Anybody want to read some EULAs?

Maybe we ought to. This stink over Sony's backdoor installation of malware on the comupters of PC users who purchase their music has gotten this subject a lot of press it wouldn't otherwise get, and it's got me thinking, what exactly is in those End User Licensing Agreements we generally click on and agree to so casually when installing new software?

Here's what's in Sony's, and this is just what's on the music cd's that they've been selling.

First, a baseline. When you buy a regular CD, you own it. You do not "license" it. You own it outright. You're allowed to do anything with it you like, so long as you don't violate one of the exclusive rights reserved to the copyright owner. So you can play the CD at your next dinner party (copyright owners get no rights over private performances), you can loan it to a friend (thanks to the "first sale" doctrine), or make a copy for use on your iPod (thanks to "fair use"). Every use that falls outside the limited exclusive rights of the copyright owner belongs to you, the owner of the CD.

Now compare that baseline with the world according to the Sony-BMG EULA, which applies to any digital copies you make of the music on the CD:

1. If your house gets burgled, you have to delete all your music from your laptop when you get home. That's because the EULA says that your rights to any copies terminate as soon as you no longer possess the original CD.

2. You can't keep your music on any computers at work. The EULA only gives you the right to put copies on a "personal home computer system owned by you."

3. If you move out of the country, you have to delete all your music. The EULA specifically forbids "export" outside the country where you reside.

4. You must install any and all updates, or else lose the music on your computer. The EULA immediately terminates if you fail to install any update. No more holding out on those hobble-ware downgrades masquerading as updates.

5. Sony-BMG can install and use backdoors in the copy protection software or media player to "enforce their rights" against you, at any time, without notice. And Sony-BMG disclaims any liability if this "self help" crashes your computer, exposes you to security risks, or any other harm.

6. The EULA says Sony-BMG will never be liable to you for more than $5.00. That's right, no matter what happens, you can't even get back what you paid for the CD.

7. If you file for bankruptcy, you have to delete all the music on your computer. Seriously.

8. You have no right to transfer the music on your computer, even along with the original CD.

9. Forget about using the music as a soundtrack for your latest family photo slideshow, or mash-ups, or sampling. The EULA forbids changing, altering, or make derivative works from the music on your computer.

I've never paid a lot of attention to which company publishes the few cd's I purchase, but you can bet your ass I'm checking now. And while I'm at it, I may have to look up a few other EULAs and see if they have similar requirements.

Add it to the list

The list of stupid decisions made by our government recently, that is.

HAVANA - A Cuban scientist who helped develop a low-cost synthetic vaccine that prevents meningitis and pneumonia in small children says he was offended the U.S. government denied his request to travel to the United States to receive an award.

Vicente Verez-Bencomo was to accept the award recognizing his team's technological achievement during a Wednesday ceremony at the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. He had also been invited to address a gathering of the Society for Glycobiology in Boston on Friday.

Verez-Bencomo said the State Department denied him a visa because the visit would be "detrimental to the interests of the United States."

The State Department declined to explain exactly how his visit would be detrimental to the interests of the US, but it wouldn't surprise me if it boiled down to "if we let him in and he gets this award, some people might realize that Cuba's not quite the backwards hellhole we've made it out to be for the last 40 years."

I'm no defender of Castro's government, but our policy toward Cuba is ridiculous to say the least, and this is just another example of that.

Friday Random Ten

Here we go.

1. Mean Old Frisco--Derek and the Dominos
2.La Grippe--Squirrel Nut Zippers
3. Just Kiss Me--Harry Connick Jr.
4. How Many More Years--Henry Gray
5. Down By the Seaside--Robert Plant and Tori Amos
6. Fare Thee well--Indigo Girls
7. Suzy Q--Boozoo Chavis
8. Let's Get It On--Jack Black
9. Redemption Song--Bob Marley
10. So Long-Farewell-Goodbye--Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

All over the place today--2 blues pieces, 2 big-bandish pieces, 2 covers, 1 reggae, 1 zydeco, 1 lesbian-folk and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. The Music Snobs would no doubt mock me mercilessly, but hey, screw them.

Thursday Night Poetry

Tonight's poem comes from my friend and teacher Davis McCombs, currently at the University of Arkansas. Davis came to Arkansas in the spring semester of my third year at Arkanasas as a visiting writer, and we loved him so much, we got him hired as permanant faculty. He became my thesis director, and helped me immensely on my successful application for the Stegner Fellowship, so to say I owe him is the understatement of a lifetime. He was the winner of the 2000 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, and tonight's poem comes from that volume, titled Ultima Thule.


Blue heart, blue
vein, bluegrass
in wind. Near dawn,
a trickling. Paint
flake and darkened door.
Barn and blackshank.
A field of burley.
A lean-to.
Old lean man.
Green River
by john-boat, a trotline.
The fruit jar
near the fieldstone
wall. Channel cat,
gar. A cane
brake, a cave.
A road through
cedars. Fencerows.
Tents on a gravel bar--
campfire, grave.
Blood cross on door.
Damp curtain, hot
night, blue moon.
The house quiet:
the porchswing and the pie
safe. The hinge.
Plowpoint and spear.
Fossil, watercress,
worm. A cradle.
Blue corn, blue-
grass in wind, ocean
you once were.

A brief note

For the record, I'd just like to note that I, too, am opposed to melting the skin off children. Adults, too.

The Big Three-Seven

Happy Berfday to Me!

Saturday Cat Blogging
Because I'm too cool to do it on Friday? These pics were taken while Wilma was raging. They didn't seem to mind it too much.

Wally (Stevens)

(T. S.) Eliot

Friday Random Ten

Post-Katrilma Edition. Mock me in the comments.

1. They Raided the House--Louis Jordan
2. Radio Radio--Elvis Costello
3. Low Down Moan--Blind Lemon Jefferson
4. I'm Wrong About Everything--John Wesley Harding
5. A Little Less Conversation--The BossHoss
6. Cause=Time--Broken Social Scene
7. Voyager--Daft Punk
8. Just Like Heaven--The Cure
9. Some Might Say--Oasis
10. They Call Me Big Mama--Big Mama Thornton

I need some new cd's, not because I think there's anything wrong with my musical taste, but because I'm jumping past more songs on my iPod than I listen to on any given day, and it's more because I'm just tired of listening to those songs than anything else.

Thursday Night Poetry

Tonight it's Anne Winters, from her new book The Displaced of Capital, which I just received today. I bought it solely on the recommendation of my friend Simone, and haven't had a chance to read much yet, but what I've read, I like. I'm posting the poem titled "Villanelle," in part because I've never been able to write one, even a bad one, and in part because Winters seems to write long, sectioned poems, and I'm not going to type out four pages worth of poetry for a blog post. I'm lazy--shoot me.


Bone-ivory thins out to sparkling gauze,
and the helices spell out their last revisions:
cascades of microscopic cellular flaws.

Dark quadrants in the X-rays of my jaws
mark the retreating toothbed, new excisions,
the ivory thinned out to sparkling gauze.

The synovial sea that bathed my knees withdraws,
leaving bone nubs to clickings and collisions,
cascades of calcium, microscopic flaws.

What's worse, this age of ice-flares and failed thaws
that might clear nights for auroral visions,
instead blows through my sleep like cradle-gauze,

filled with nursery-rockers, pastel night-lights: straws
that wove about those years of small decisions
a screen against the tide of cellular flaws.

Why should the ova and the menses pause
for this bleak text of lapses and elisions:
bone-ivory thinning out to sparkling gauze,
cascades of tiny intracellular flaws.

Wilma Photos
Monkey on a tree in Holiday Park.
What's left of our picnic table.
A corn plant outside Monkey's bedroom.
Wilma in action.


Amy got two great pieces of news over the last couple of days. First, she found out that her poem The Biggest Jazz Funeral in History was accepted for publication by storySouth. No word yet on when precisely it will appear, but you can be sure I'll link it as soon as it appears.

Secondly, Electric Yeti took another story of hers for their first ever print issue (they've been exclusively online thus far)--a piece called The First Christmas.

No exciting news for me, although I sent out one contest entry today, and there are two major book prize deadlines coming up in two weeks, so I'll be buried with that as well.

And because I have little else to do on the blog tonight, a poem of mine own.

Up South

Amy stands on the edge of the sand,
tastes breezes through lips once chapped
by Oklahoma dust, looks away from the neon,
the faux-frontal nudity of Lauderdale.
She is home here, this place of mahi
and yellowfin and shark that flash
through reef and surf, that call her
to rejoin them as though she had once
sprung whole from the sea. Her land,
her peninsula, once separated from
civilization by malarial swamp
that still threatens to reconquer.
She calls my home “up-south.”
New Orleans, clichèd home of swooners,
of goateed gamblers debarking
from riverboats, of Storyville quadroons
named by Shakespeare. Not my city.
Mine is the patois of immigrants, faded
by assimilation, but still attendant
in chere and Hey la-bas and mais yeah,
in Ti-Jean and Nookie and Mawmaw June,
in roux dark and sweet and so brown;
in daily August rain not cooling,
falling just enough to steam the streets
and send me running for a nearby bar,
windows painted: Cold Beer, Colder A/C.
She is pollo and camaron, jerk and salsa
and reggae and old Jewish women
mopping their foreheads. I am bourré
and etouffee, low down papas with
the blues and a city ever on the brink
of washing into the Gulf of Mexico.
She is displaced Irishmen, snugs and whisky,
too many people, and ever on the brink
of being blown into the Gulf of Mexico.
I am where no one is a stranger,
just misplaced family returned home.
She is where no one is a stranger;
everyone is from somewhere else.

Happy Halloween
It's amazing how much your mood lifts when you get your electricity back.

It's also funny how your personal sense of crisis ends once your regain a semblance of normality to your life. The day after Wilma hit, when everyone had a power outage, I remember telling Monkey how being without electricity didn't suck so bad when everyone didn't have it--it only started to suck once neighbors got it and you didn't. Now we're among the haves instead of the have-nots, and it feels like the worst is over, because it is, at least for us.

So far, the restoration is really spotty in our neighborhood--on some streets, you'll see one or two buildings with power, then none for a couple of blocks, and then blocks of full restoration. Downed trees really did a number on our neighborhood.

The local groceries are starting to stock perishables again, which of course means that we bought perishables, since we have refrigeration again. No streetlights yet, which means that there probably won't be any trick-or-treaters tonight--we weren't able to go all out because of the storm, but Monkey is outside looking like a very young Elvira with a bucket full of Hershey Nuggets.

So there we are--our latest adventure in weather. How long till this season is over again?

I'm back, sort of.

Right now I'm sitting in Amy's truck in a Winn Dixie parking lot in our neighborhood. We still don't have electricity, but this plaza does, and I'm posting from a local coffee house's WiFi network. They aren't open, but their network is up, so here I am. What follows is a long day by day of the hurricane and aftermath from my very limited vantage point.

1:00 Tuesday afternoon

Wilma has come and gone, and it was a nerve-wracking experience. Even though I grew up in hurricane-prone Louisiana, I’ve never actually been this close to a major storm. I’ve often felt the after-effects—flooding, loss of electricity, living conditions far more primitive than I’ve become accustomed to (which is not the same as primitive living conditions, no matter how tv talking heads try to portray it).

We’re better prepared than many, simply because we’ve been campers in the past, and many of the basic tools of camping come in handy. We have a small propane camp stove so we can cook, we have a small but efficient cooler for perishables, a battery operated radio, fluorescent lanterns and candles for lighting, etc. We also have a propane grill that, fortunately, survived the storm, despite it being outside and unceremoniously dumped over. So for dinner last night, we had grilled chicken and the last of our Publix-brand potato salad/cole slaw/noodle salad—quite a feast, considering that we had no electricity or running water.

It disturbs me greatly when tv (or radio) talking heads describe the conditions after any natural disaster in these hyperbolic terms, not only because it reflects how spoiled we’ve become by modern convenience and how dependent we are on technology for comfort, but largely because it causes average people, those who have been caught in the middle of it, to think that they’re experiencing something far worse than they really are.

For instance, I’ve already heard, on the radio, callers describing the destruction in their areas as resembling a war zone. That’s ludicrous. For starters, in a war zone, once the destruction occurs, you don’t often get a quiet respite to be able to rebuild what you’ve lost, and you certainly don’t get local and federal government assurances that you’re going to get help rebuilding. Generally, you’re dodging bullets while you continue to try to get what you need to survive. Even the damage from Katrina (which I’ve heard more than one commentator call Wilma) isn’t like a war zone in those terms, even though it’s far worse than anything we’ve experienced with this storm.

Local tree damage has been spectacular to see, and I’ll post some pictures as soon as I get them developed. A huge mango tree in the yard adjacent to ours was snapped in half, and the trees in Victoria Park were devastated. According to our neighbor (who lost part of his roof), the old jet in front of the War Memorial at the park took another flight during the storm, so we’ll be going to check that out soon. For us personally, we lost a patio table. The wind picked it up and shattered the glass, and then jammed the frame between our two cars, leaving some scratches on the pristine (hah!) paint jobs and a very interesting series of scrapes on my windshield right where I gaze through while driving. I bet that’ll prism into some amazing disco-ball like rays just before sunset someday.

We lost electricity of course, and water power, which didn’t happen during Katrina. We just got water back, although the pressure is still a bit low, but that makes a ton of difference in terms of comfort. Fortunately, a low pressure system followed this storm, so the temperatures have been glorious—70s during the day and 50s at night. After Katrina, I slept on the tile floor in order to stay cool.

But I’ve been far more uncomfortable at other points of my life. All I’m really experiencing is inconvenience—no internet connection, no way to recharge my laptop battery when it dies (Amy’s been writing on her old manual typewriter for the last couple of days), no cordless phone (but we do have an old, junky, corded phone that we keep in the closet for just such occasions), we have to recharge cell phones in the car, no tv/dvd/videogames, and no air conditioning (which could be an issue if we’re without power for more than a week).

This storm could have been so much worse. The nerve-wracking part of it was about 12 hours long, which is incredibly short for a hurricane, and it happened in daylight, so we could keep an eye on what was happening, and that really helped. No school for any of us this week—no word yet on whether that means FAU will add on another week to make up for this one or if I’ll have to readjust my syllabi again. Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. I’ll add to this as the situation warrants.

10:20 p.m.

We were outside talking to our neighbor when one of out other neighbors came home—she works in a hospital north of here and she told us that the local police informed her that since the hospital was at the top of the list for power restoration, they’d be back online by Friday. Holy shit.

Amy’s on the phone with her brother who lives in Boulder—he’s giving us the lowdown from what’s available online. 98% of the tri-county area (Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade) is without electricity. The Mayor of Fort Lauderdale said that he doesn’t know of a single home in the city that has power. There’s a curfew from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and there are no alcohol sales permitted between those hours until further notice. About 80 planes were damaged at the Boca airport, which is right next to the FAU campus. But take heart—according to the Sun-Sentinel, the basketball courts and roller hockey rinks in Davie are apparently (and the article used the qualifier here) undamaged. Thank the gods.

We’ve also heard some tragic news. The Mai-Kai’s roof has apparently collapsed, which is sad because we were planning a visit there this Friday before the Wilma hit. It’s one of my favorite cheesy places in south Florida. Too bad it couldn’t have been the sucky Coral Ridge Ministries church, the one run by Dobson’s assistant demon, Kennedy.

Amy reminded me just now of an abomination we saw yesterday while walking around after the storm—a Lamborghini SUV. It wasn’t damaged or anything, which actually made it worse, I think—just the notion of a Lamborghini SUV made me nauseous.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw tonight, however, was the night sky. South Florida has beautiful night skies, but it’s because of the light pollution. The clouds put off this unearthly glow most nights. But tonight, it’s as dark as any night in west Oklahoma, and you can see almost as many stars. It’s actually eerie, considering what I’m used to since I’ve been here.

More pictures today. The fighter jet atop its little concrete pole has indeed eaten sod, and I took a lot of pictures I hope will come out. Pine trees bowed in half. Cars at the staging area where water and ice was supposed to be given out with windows smashed out. Given the number of coconuts we saw on the ground right across the street, I’m amazed that none of them wound up in my back seat. We’ll go check out our friend Don’s house tomorrow. He said he lost a major avocado tree and had some other yard damage. We also want to try to make our way north to Amy’s folks and see what happened up there.

One last thing. The lesson I learned from our little brush with Katrina was that the object is not to try to avoid having technology fail—it’s that when that technology ultimately fails, it needs to fail well. The best example I have is our junky corded phone, upon which Amy is talking with her brother. Amy’s parents and sister both have houses filled with cordless phones, not to mention cell phones, all of which depend either on electricity or batteries, neither of which are available (for power or charging) after a storm. Since our junky little phone depends on the power that comes through the phone line to operate, as long as they work, we have an outlet. Too bad we have so few local people to talk to.

1:00 p.m. Wednesday

Finally heard from Amy’s mom today. Apparently, cell phone service in Coral Springs is non-existent, and Deb was only able to call us once she was on her way back to Margate. Rob and Debbie are taking their son Payton to a hotel in Miami, and big Deb will be going with them—Rob drove all the way to Port St. Lucie yesterday in search of gasoline for his generators and couldn’t find any stations with power. Payton has to have electricity for his breathing apparatus, so since they can’t find gas, they’re relocating to someplace in Miami with power. Amy’s dad will stay behind to take care of his own cats and their dogs.

The local radio station coverage seems to have improved from yesterday. It’s less sensational, less filled with aggravating solipsisms and suggestions to not beat your wife or kids (seriously—that was part of the talk yesterday). I heard the Mayor of Miami expressing some aggravation at FEMA and the feds this morning about the problems they’ve had getting water and ice to affected areas in Miami-Dade county. FPL is saying that they’ll have 95% of the area restored by Nov. 15, and everyone online by the 22nd. I hope they’re pulling a Scotty here, saying it’ll take three weeks and then getting it done in one so they look heroic, but my bet is we’ll be closer to the 15th than, say, Halloween. That will make teaching, umm, challenging, to be sure.

The local news coverage has been dominated by Wilma, of course, and I wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m still curious about what’s going on nationally. I got a glimpse last night that Fitzgerald had sent out his target letters and that indictments would be handed out today in the Plame matter; hints were that Rove and Libby were going to be hit with at least one count each. But I’m having trouble finding out anything more substantial—my cell phone’s internet won’t connect and the battery is running low on that as well—time to spend a few quality minutes in the car, I guess.

1:00 p.m. Friday

Yesterday we remembered that the hot water heater for our section of the complex is run by natural gas, which means no more cold showers. I tacked up the sections of the privacy fence which came down in the storm (with Monkey’s help)—I wouldn’t give it thirty seconds in another storm, largely because I used finishing nails for the last part, due to the fact that my cordless drill gave up right at the end. My laptop is on its last battery legs as well, so if we don’t get electricity soon or if we don’t find somewhere to plug it in, I’ll be reduced to keeping these notes on paper.

Speaking of electricity—neighborhoods close to ours are getting power back, which is encouraging. Downside is that on the Sunrise side of our neighborhood, huge trees are still blocking roadways and they took down major power lines, so if we depend on those lines, we’ll be down for a while yet. Fortunately, the local FEMA ice and water station is just across the park. We picked up four bags of ice and a couple of liters of water, and if the boil order hasn’t been rescinded yet, it should be soon.

I think my laptop has ants.

Our most precious commodity is still gasoline. Lines run for blocks, and the end result is often that a station will run out of gas before everyone fills up. On the turnpike, drivers are limited to 20 bucks a shot, which at nearly three bucks a gallon amounts to approximately the amount of gas it takes an SUV to get to the station and wait in line. We’re hoarding our gas, because we’re afraid we’ll have to start driving to Boca next week and won’t be able to fill up again without great difficulty. Living in San Francisco really helped when it came to picking out this place—Amy wanted a place that would offer us the ability to walk to get whatever we needed, and that has made this situation far more bearable than it could have been.

Speaking of work, I have no idea what teaching will be like when we get back—how many of my students will be in class? how many of them will be without power? will I still be without power? how much will I have to readjust my syllabi again? should I adjust my grading criteria to allow for the added difficulties brought on by the storm?

One last thing—Amy has invented a new cocktail I have dubbed the Katrilma. It’s the kind of drink that comes from whatever you have left over. Vodka, cherry juice and ginger ale over ice if you have it—dangerously sweet and powerful.

Saturday 6:00 p.m.

Power returned to the homes a block south of us, with a crackling transformer and flames popping out of the wires on the pole in the parking lot of the Greek Orthodox Church across the street. I walked over there to make sure a fire hadn’t started when I heard the howls of glee from down the street. Of course, that means we’ll get power back in two weeks—I’ve gotten a bit cynical about it lately.

I don’t really have much to complain about. We have hot water, we still have propane, we have plenty of canned food and restaurants are opening up all over the place, so it’s getting better. We’re still on a boil order, but with the FEMA water/ice drop right across the park, we’re in no danger of running out any time soon. The lack of power has gotten us all a lot closer—nights spent playing rummy by candlelight, breaking out our musical instruments and playing together. I’ve really become impressed with Monkey’s talent on the flute—she was improvising around my strumming and singing last night.

Rob and Deb brought Payton back from Miami today—they still don’t have power, but they filled their gas tanks down there and are back on the generator, and they have other options if that becomes an issue again.

We’re going to dinner tonight with some friends, and we’ll stop off for a beer and hopefully some pool afterwards (if the tables aren’t taken). The curfew has been extended to 11:00 now instead of the dusk to dawn one we were under.

We found out today that Monkey’s school situation will be day-to-day after Monday, while we head back for a meeting on Tuesday, with classes to resume on Wednesday. Here’s hoping we’re up and running at home before then.

5:30 a.m.

Looked out the window, saw the cover had come off the grill and stepped out to refasten it--not really raining yet but the wind is gusting nicely, and off toward the beach I saw what I believe was the electric blue glow of a transformer giving way. My lights flickered seeconds afterward, so I wouldn't be surprised if I'm coming close to going to bed.

Wilma update

Like I did with Katrina's little brush with Florida, I'll try to provide brief updates while I have electricity. It's about 3 in the morning and I'm the only one still awake. The wind just started whistling around outside--I'm not going to go out there to see what it looks like and I don't have a digital camera to load any pictures of it. I imagine the electricity will go in the next couple of hours, though it may hold out until we get the real storm later this morning--for Katrina, we kept it until the storm was practically on top of us, so if that holds, I guess by 10:00 a.m. (at the latest) we'll be dark.

We've prepped what we could, mainly for a blackout. Our landlady has shutters for the streetside windows, but none for the side and rear walls. They're sheltered somewhat, in the back by other units and on the side by a privacy fence and the house next door. We put duct tape on the windows in case they get broken, in a no doubt vain attempt to minimize the shattering, and Amy packed up her computer and wrapped it in plastic. Photo albums are on top of a tall bookcase, and we cleared out a closet to serve as an emergency hideout if things get really raucous, but I hope we don't have to go in there, because it would be cramped, to say the least.

Monkey has decided, by virtue of the fact that she will have been hit by both Katrina (full strength) and Wilma to refer to them collectively as Katrilma.

On the plus side, the weatherfolk keep noting that, once Wilma passes, a cold front will come through, dropping high temps into the 70s and nighttime lows into the 50s for a couple of days, long enough, we hope, for the electricity to be restored.

More later.

P.S. Quick film review--Go see Good Night and Good Luck. It is wonderfully understated and well-acted by all involved. Even McCarthy.

Waiting for Wilma

This is one time I wish I had cable or a satellite dish, just because there's a level of weather coverage you can get on television that you just don't get online yet. I can look at all kinds of satellite and radar imagery, but since I don't know anything about what it all means, it's useless. All I can do is just wait it out with Amy, Monkey and the cats.

More work pictures

Remember that post a while back where I said I worked in the coolest place ever? Here are some photos I got developed this weekend. The first is of a sunset, and the picture is crap--it doesn't come close to the real beauty that night, mainly because I know absolutely nothing about shooting skyscapes, especially at night. I need to work on that.

This one is of a bird, called an anhinga, which inhabits the pond I get to walk past to get to my office. It doesn't swim above the water--when it fishes, it either walks on the bottom of the lake or swims so that only its head appears above the surface. At times, you can see these heads pop up above the surface and bob along. Once it has finished feeding, it climbs out of the water and tries to find a breeze to help it get dry. I caught this one at the perfect time.

Don't know what these guys have been smoking, but...

My blog is worth $28,227.00.
How much is your blog worth?

That's more than I've made in most years.

Friday random ten

No semi-witticisms today--I'm under another pile of grading and there's a hurricane a-coming (maybe). Here we go.

1. Raspberry Beret--Warren Zevon
2. Chicken, Gravy and Biscuits--Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials
3. I Don't Sleep, I Dream--R.E.M.
4. Soaked--Pinback
5. Strange Brew--Cream
6. Kissing the Lipless--The Shins
7. Splendid Isolation--Warren Zevon
8. Further On Up the Road--Eric Clapton
9. B-Boys Makin' With the Freak-freak--The Beastie Boys
10. Bright Future in Sales--Fountains of Wayne

Broke my self-imposed rule of no repeated artists, but only because it's Zevon.

Thursday Night Poetry

Getting in just in under the wire, this time with one of my own. This is a relatively new piece, and not related to my work on Jehovah's Witnesses. I wrote it while working with a student at Stanford--we were reading Philip Larkin at the time and it reawakened some of my latent formalism and linked up with some of my not-so-latent politics.

after Philip Larkin

I thought that it would last my time
as well, but now I have my doubts
that we can make it past this latest cry
of “Empire!” without losing out

on what might once have been. We are
not exceptional, not that we
ever were, except in legend-
makers’ mouths, our Founding Fathers

only real as Arthur, El Cid,
the Seven Samurai, Ah-nold.
Our myths are real to us, but still
they are but allegory. Now

we start to pay the price: belief.
Belief in what we thought we were—
saviors, fair, just, and then the biggie,
moral—and yet absurd belief

is what has brought us here, to this
time when quicksilver runs
in rivers and refineries
spill toxic chemicals in tons

into lakes where homes once protected
by levee and canal now sink
into silt that even when dry
will grow nothing for years, will stink,

this time where protest, a voice raised
is called treason by reckless cowards
who send others to do their will.
This is nothing that hasn’t come

before; it wasn’t reality
I thought would last beyond my time,
just the illusion. It’s possible
we’ll stay fooled. I hope I’m wrong.

Grandmama's Coming to Town

Not really--it's just that the latest freak hurricane shares my grandmother's name.

There has never been a hurricane like Wilma before. With an unbelievable round of intensification that saw the pressure drop 87 mb in just 12 hours, Wilma smashed the all-time record for lowest pressure in an Atlantic hurricane this morning. The 4 am hurricane hunter report put the pressure at 882 mb, easily besting the previous record of 888 mb set in Hurricane Gilbert of 1988. Since no hurricane hunter airplane has been in the eye since then, Wilma may be even stronger now. The eye diameter of Wilma during this round of intensification shrunk as low as 2 nautical miles, which may be the smallest eye diameter ever measured in a tropical cyclone. The only eye I could find close to that small in the records was a 3 nm one, the Category 4 Typhoon Jeliwat in 2000. It's amazing the hurricane hunters were even able to penetrate the eye--it's really tough to hit a 2 mile wide eye when you're flying crabbed over at a 30 degree yaw angle fighting horizontal flight level winds of 185 mph and severe turbulence. This is an incredibly compact, amazingly intense hurricane, the likes of which has never been seen in the Atlantic. The Hurricane Season of 2005 keeps topping itself with new firsts, and now boasts three of the five most intense hurricanes of all time--Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.

They're saying it won't be nearly as intense when it finally gets to where I am, partly because it will have crossed over a few landmasses by then--the Yucatan, Cuba, and the Everglades, none of which do much by themselves, but cumulatively can weaken it--and from the wind shear from the low pressure system which is supposed to make it essentially reverse course. That said, it could hit the Everglades as a strong 3/weak 4 and since it won't slow down that much, we could see some severe winds and rain even on the east coast of Florida.

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