Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

A Dream, April Eighth.

(I prepared this for posting on April ninth. I went away from it without posting it, and for no particular reason never went back to see if it might be worth putting out into the world.)

Saturday morning I dreamed about ordinary events that had a strange twist:

For in it Martha and I were taking a Greyhound bus trip somewhere; and at one stop everyone disembarked, since it would be a while before the bus went on. We two had time enough, oddly, to attend a little auction, where I hesitated bidding on a tray holding brass items: for I was thinking about having to pack them in my luggage.

The stop itself seemed a hotel lobby. Soon we learned the bus would be going on only the next day, and that we needed to stay the night at the hotel — on the top story, for some reason. Then it turned out that the bus was going on, after all.

Once we were moving again, I noticed that the first leg's driver was sitting in the rearmost seat.

After a time I realized he was Donald Trump.

A young female passenger apparently also noticed, for she approached him and with well-modulated, self-possessed voice stated her admiration, which she may have meant to express her desire to become his lover. This, at least, was the meaning he took: for he stated his surprise that she thought they could manage it, with nowhere to have privacy. Yet he plainly accepted the situation as a normal one.

The bus had changed, though, as dream-buses will — so that it had a door in the back, which led somehow into an office. This he opened. As he went through, despite his just-earlier receptiveness to the woman's approaches, he said, to whomever was in the office, something dismissive and demeaning about her. In this way he departed, and the dream ended.

It has struck me, when the dream has come back to mind, that the hotel in the dream should be a tall one — and that we most commonplace sorts who might be riding a Greyhound should have the prospect waved before our eyes of staying on the top floor. We ended up having no such stay, of course.

On Greyhound trips, years ago, I sometimes would see off-duty drivers riding along. They always sat in the first seat, so as to gab throughout the trip with the one actually driving. They never would take a seat farther back, let alone the one farthest back.

A certain sort of passenger would choose the rearmost seat, on some trips I took — sometimes of the brown-bag-illicit-beverage sort.

Most of us took one of those seats only as a last resort, on the most jam-packed legs of our journeys.

Cheers ....

Monday, March 6, 2017

You Look out on a World

You look out on a world now crusted thick
with snow and ice-melt, now the Winter King
sits on the eastern throne and everything
lies coated in his cold. By con-man's trick

he won the scepter; and by subterfuge,
dispatched a knight or two who might have ruled
more fairly. Blathering his rude, unschooled
prejudgements — promising a resort refuge

for the over-taxed well-heeled — he kills
a lady with a torch in flowing gown —
perhaps does else, once she lies stabbed and down —
then smiles, having won this contest of ills.
Pleased that an ursine purse has bought this crown,
a party of pigs gorges on his swills.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mr. Brain and the Dereliction of Beauty

By Ezra Pines

He followed the striking woman with his eyes, then his feet, and re-entered the mezzanine to Trunk Tower, so-named because the marvelous edifice was a vast elephant's head with its nose extending straight upwards, and with its great earflaps outspread to hold tennis courts, promenades, barbers, boutiques, groomers, and spit-and-polishers — all readily accessible to those who could pass through iron gates that were like ear-follicles between the ear-flaps and the mezzanine, and that, too, were like strainers that sifted the Beautiful from those otherwise.

"Who do you think that woman is?" said Mr. Brain.

"Not a palm tree," said his pocket philodendron.

"I think she must be important, with an office in the upper trunk."

"Nor do I think she is a potted cactus," said the plant, "although I suppose those strands across her head might be wilted spines."

"That is what caught my eye — so that I lost concentration while practicing my supercilious lip-twitches. How wonderfully red is her hair!"

"And not a horsetail. I know my horsetails. She would need a squishier carpet, to thrive as an equisetum."

"And how nicely she keeps it combed over that dome covering her brain! And how high a dome it is!"

"Yoo-hoo, Mr. Brain!"

"Do I know you?"

"And this is not a potted cactus, either — "

"Yes it is," Mr. Brain said to the leaves flowing from his lapel pocket.

" — though prickly," said the philodendron.

"Phil knows me," said the cactus.

"Mrs. Brain!" said Mr. Brain. "You choose the most revealing garb! Why are you here?"

"You know well that the beauty technicians will open the gates for you, but not for me. I must wait in the foyer."

"They keep you out because you need no improvement!"

"Liar," said the philodendron. "It is because you paid them to keep her out."

"Pay no heed to my houseplant!"

"My houseplant, you mean. Phil, you should come home with me."

A voice rang from the front desk — "Ms. Posh!" — at which the majestic redhead redirected her upturned nose in that direction.

"By the glowing curlicues of my parietal lobes," whispered Mr. Brain, "she is Trunk Tower's owner!"

"And with that cheap cranial dome," said Mrs. Brain, plucking Fred from his pocket with a spine. "I hear her nose has been shortened," she hissed, and departed.

He barely heard her.

##

Setting out on his first date with Ms. Posh, Mr. Brain learned that she was a simulacrum of the original, although no one knew exactly which one among the simulacra was the original Ms. Posh. This particular Ms. Posh admitted it might well be she. It seemed in keeping with her tastes that she agreed to ride the pride of Trunk Tower, a roller-coaster that took dives through amusement tunnels giving views of immigrants sweating under a hot sun, hampered in their labors by huge wallets in their pockets stuffed with Corporate America's hardly earned cash; homeless people being turned away from emergency rooms, while insurance peddlers hovered overhead in luxury helicars; and Kansas farmers driving immense corn-harvesters with hammer-and-sickle license plates.

Mr. Brain cried "Oh!" and then "Ah!" — not at the thrilling sights, but at the facial contortions Ms. Posh displayed as the rushing air from the screeching railcar pushed her features into pouts, horrendous frowns, cheek-flappings, chin-furrowings, bullfrog-bulgings, and eyebrow-double-golden-archings, while her tongue wiggled between her pulled-back lips and added a warble to her shouts and screams. In his life he had seen nothing quite so stunningly gorgeous.

The press widely reported that Ms. Posh's brain, too, was captivating. Why, then, did she keep this feature concealed? Might it not be as beautiful as Mrs. Brain's? He always spoke of his wife's brain with candor and truth, to himself as to others. Mrs. Brain had the most enchantingly vibrant cerebral mass he ever had beheld, except in a mirror; and she displayed it properly, beneath exquisite Craniumware Gazeglass.

So when — on a corner turn, as the railcar was rolling from the Mountains of Madness and coasting toward the Sloughs of Despair — a stray gale-blast slightly ruffled the scarlet fringe combed over her cranial dome, he gazed with wonder and anticipation. Her filaments stirred in the rushing air; he felt his synapses burn and snap.

The fringe parted.

His own Gazeglass went gray with smoke.

For as the air whirled and the racing railcar ran another turn, and Ms. Posh's lips vibrated through contortions and pouts, and her tongue pointed and vibrated at a parade of fast-food cashiers wearing red wigs and red noses, he caught glimpses not of Ms. Posh's brain, which he found himself unable to discern, but of her cranial covering. About the practice he had heard, without having seen it in person: for rather than Gazeglass or Diamondpure or Leadcrystalhead, she was wearing an inverted molded-glass egg-mixer bowl with its Walletmart price sticker still affixed. No wonder the dome stood so high: not to contain wondrous moundings; not to protect pilings of sumptuous gray coilings; but to prevent egg-splatterings from egg-whippings, in daily kitchen use.

Distraught and despairing he flung himself from the screeching railcar. His cranial dome shattered on the dirty cement below, although his feelings remained intact. Fortunately a nearby young custodian, who had been playing chess with her vacuum cleaner, had a spare polyethylene dome in her pushcart.

"You won't want to hear the hoots and catcalls out there, if they see you like this," said the smudge-cheeked girl, gesturing out across the wide earflaps that were filled with the Beautiful practicing their posturings. She led him to a service door.

As he exited, one of the Beautiful, who happened to have been exercising her aloofness in this lonely corner, said, "Why, Mr. Brain is leaving us!" She sniffed.

Feeling suddenly a child, he himself sniffed and perhaps something more, and vowed never to return.

"Still, Phil is not here to hear me swear this," he said to himself as he trudged away. "No one would know, should I go back on my vow. As I should! For I want no one to call me derelict in what is mine — at all times! Always! Forever!"

The End

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Grapevines, Winter Solstice

Branchings and runners fall shorter,
as short as they ever will be;
they fall to gloved hand and clipper
on winter solstice day.

Thickest trunks stay, rising through snow.
Thinnest vinings from the longest
of days, that bore greenest of growth,
fall, now days are shortest.

Oh, our summer seemed so endless
when countless thoughts clustered to mind —
although some vines would stand fruitless,
and many plans would end,

brought short by the trimming of hours;
and now celebrants trim yule trees,
and dwell with a sigh on past years
and long-gone solstice days.

I cut them short as they will be,
all year, these runners and branchings,
and hope that the shrinking of day
and dim thoughts of endings

will yield to times when even Time
will grow, granting days that will be
longer, when greening thoughts will climb
higher, nearer the sky —

at least along wires that we string
across land, across snow, to hold
such hopes. A solstice day must bring
something new, something old —

or bring short the old to unfold
into the new. Who can foresee
what one short day's trimming will yield,
this winter solstice day?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

President Koom-Posh

I have written several blog entries this year that I have held off posting for various reasons, good or otherwise. Yet now I have sent in a blog entry to Aqueduct (aqueductpress.blogspot.com) — another "Readings" installment that should appear sometime this season. That essay had room for a few but not all thoughts that were coming to mind.

So here I follow a few unvoiced strands.

Aqueduct's L. Timmel Duchamp has told me that she is "becoming an apostle of slow thinking." My sporadic blogging arises from a similar inclination, which has realized itself in my policy to post here only what I have drafted first in handwriting, usually in pencil. I still do some writing on typewriter and computer keyboard. Yet blog entries I want to redraft minimally, if possible.

My typing speed results, too often, in that which haste produces: words parading as Thought. While I acknowledge the demands of expediency, I believe a writer must nurture the writing process at every turn. That means nurturing thought, as opposed to hastening words. Writing as a process yields thought. Hastened words only reflect thoughts; and since they must reflect expedience, as well, they tend to reflect those thoughts incompletely or inaccurately.

This has become a pressing issue, to my mind, with the rise to power by Koom-Posh. Bulwer Lytton coined this term for "government of the many, or the ascendancy of the most ignorant or hollow."

Andrew Jackson I suspect could have been called President Koom-Posh, had the term then existed. However quick and canny a man he was, his making cronyism into a political institution points to hollowness. Expediency, prior to his becoming president, seems to have ruled him; and, afterwards, its demands, rather than those of the presidency, continued to rule.

The other day I came across comments stating that the presidency requires "exclusive fealty" to the constitution. "Fealty" as a word has links to fidelity; and this suggests that in thinking about a person who lacks such fealty, one might use "infidelity" as an attribute, or "infidel," as a label. The current president-elect Comb-Over, or Koom-Over, or Posh-Over, has indicated he wishes to continue his businesses while part-time president; and business cronies will dominate his administration. His fealty lies with another lord than the Constitution. Perhaps we might call him His Expediency.

Our eclectic, mannerist Age of the Masses has its deepest shallow roots in the Modern century, roughly the 1860s to 1950s. Van Wyck Brooks, in writing about the later 1800s, noted alterations to the American Fabric then being made — such as the conscious discarding of the traditional writings that had offered bedrock, on which her founders could build the United States.

I find what Brooks said about the Classics telling. They "kept alive great patterns of behavior ... The close association of intimate studies had made the patterns real, and the patterns had made great writers as they made great statesmen. They appealed to the instinct of emulation, an instinct that in later days followed the patterns set by industrial leaders, by bankers and by millionaires whose only idea was the will to power and who ruled by the blind force of money."

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Thoughts Approaching a Memory:
David G. Hartwell

In some ways it seemed strange, last night, to grieve for someone whom I knew less than perfectly well, and with whom I had a few differences.

Yet I did feel grief — that upwelling, unstoppable acknowledgement that some piece belonging to the puzzle presented by our own life has vanished with finality — vanished despite its seeming to have fitted into our world-picture with the permanence that great character and distinctive personality seem to possess.

It may be that they only seem to possess this permanence, and that the inevitable vanishing serves to correct our susceptible senses and hungry-to-believe hearts.

The vanishing of what, though? Surely not character and personality. The one for whom I grieved possessed these to such degrees that they must have bled off from his mere physical body constantly, collecting in rooms and hallways, in houses and offices and hotels and restaurants and taverns and any spaces public or private encountered, appearing and fading away like drifting dust motes or chance sunbeams in from a window; bled off to be breathed in like that dust, or sensed like that sunlight; bled off to become, as do dust motes or light beams, part of new blood flowing in other veins.

For we are needy plants spreading our leaves to catch light, our roots to catch settled dust.

Grief must strike when one feels, viscerally, that one is to have no more of that character and personality. Yet strangely it must strike when one feels, too, that this other's character and personality have grown into one's own. The vital moments in a relationship persist, and make those who leave us, physically, remain in us.

I can say with little certainty how long I have known David — which is to say, how long he has been real within my life, rather than just a face and a name, a figure famous in the relatively small science-fiction publishing world. That sense of the real may have come fairly quickly, since besides science fiction we shared being booksellers and poetry-magazine editors. I have small idea what he saw in me; yet since I felt adrift in the field, his consistent friendliness and generous conversations made me feel less estranged from the field that I had chosen and that often seemed intent on choosing anyone but me. That he had a genius for friendship seemed apparent; that he held too many reins at the same time to actually follow that genius, equally.

If I picture him, I recall brows that could furrow with intensity; eyes that gazed directly, whether troubled or pleased; lips that could widen around a smile that was usually genuine but partly an invention that he displayed for photographers; and lips that could pull back, too, around a grimace that reflected his wrestling with ideas and perspectives, which I think always was genuine — because, in picturing him, that grimace comes to my mind almost first. In him the element of the showman came often to the fore: a literate, thoughtful showman, who had a true respect for audience. Did he neglect any inner elements due to his impulse for show? It may be, since I find it hard to imagine anyone being a show-person without some personal cost. Yet in whatever the mood of the moment, I can still see that grimace emerge — that argumentative thoughtfulness, that assertive possession of the materials of his mind. That grimace: the smile from his tenacious power-sense, his knotty heart. His truth. In another mode he would appear with the eyebrows that seemed rising to meet his hairline; and at such moments he would tilt slightly his head and poise with a mouth that seemed too small for the expansive width of smile belonging to other moments, and speak words that would rise from the desk-worn editorial sleeve — in a small voice, almost too well spoken, a bit learned, a bit facetious, a bit fastidious. While I cannot know if I heard him use the phrase, I can hear him all the same — just after dipping down his chin to shoulder-level and upwards, like a tortoise getting a crink out of its neck: "Not to make too fine a distinction. But — " And later his smile would erupt like a voiceless laugh.

I suspect he might have found a calm, lasting happiness had it been his to find sensible order in his surroundings — books, people, food, drink, easy times, complicated times — yet the chaos that afflicts nearly all creative lives must have come as inevitable price, for him, for the sense of order he placed upon his publishing realm — his anthologies, his historical-survey compendia, his reviews-magazine editing, his ceaseless efforts to educate and inform. To some degree I believe he paid the price happily, and went striding along chaos's verge with some good cheer: for he had appetites, including one for engagement with his immediate surroundings; and he had the kind of humor that can, at least at times, save those of us who tempt the dogs of chaos perhaps too much.

We go on, as we must —

And we carry along with us another's now-permanent character and personality — as we must.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Crows at Misty Winter Solstice Morning

In mist, by mist
the year has let her toenail edges be soft-kissed,
as stretched on solstice bier she lies
with shuttered eyes.

The crows upon the trees' dead branches
laugh in avalanches
in their nervous drollery -- at seeing her supine below
untouched by snow,

which all hold proper for her burial.
Those corvines aerial
in scouting near and far have missed
all signs of snowy cerements, in the mist,

and wonder what dire dooms befall
a year that ends without her proper pall.
They drop pine branches on her open palms
as though not we but she had need for alms.

She lies oblivious.
Yet that she lies so obvious
has offered more to prompt the crows' concern.
They fly to find what they might learn

from others tending distant regions,
and gather in tree-branch legions
sharing caws, caws, caws --
while some call out, "Because, cause, cause,"

when pointing down with beaks
at one below who walks in mud and speaks
as though the world has not gone wrong,
who sings a sentimental Christmas song.

The crows regret they let humans infest
the sacramental nest,
within which, after winter-solstice night,
each new year comes to light.

The crows have naught to do but wait,
this time when dusk comes early and the morning, late:
for Mother Crow will bring forgiving night
to drape, in place of snowy white.

—— Copyright 2015 Mark Rich