Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

It Is Old Year's Day

And I have fed the birds their seed,
and fed myself some words, just as I ought,
with air at seven points below the naught —
for the thermometer is what I read —
or frost-lines written on the window panes:
lines written with the patience of the cold
upon a year grown blind and stiff and old.
Such lines should write themselves as the year wanes

on Old Year's Day ... how way leads on to way;
how after roads are two, just one goes forth;
whose land this is I think I know — so forth
we go through snowy woods, perhaps to stay,
or find white rest; and so on, and so forth,
writing and reading on this Old Year's Day.

Writing on the World

The phrase comes to me sometimes — that I am writing on the world: the footsteps in new snow that I wrote about, that other day, you might see as an example. Each scrape and scratch we make; each rubbing, bumping, scuffing; each rearrangement, as of the leaves whose positions we change, by our passing, whether they are alive on a branch or are returned to earth at our feet; each thought, expressed by eye or tilting head or crooked elbow. All arrive as our writings on a place we call ours.

Just so we call a place in our book, the one we are reading, the place where we "are." We inhabit physical spaces anywhere but where that bookmark protrudes; yet there, pressed between leaves, we are. We have made the book ours, to one degree or another, by inhabiting it thus far. We have made it ours by writing ourselves into it, sentence by sentence. We are alive to it; for it takes footprints — invisible to others, yet footprints all the same, to be pointed out: for there we are.

And if there we are in the book, then there we are, anywhere we have been: we have inhabited it thus far, and no farther. So we read our world and write ourselves into it, word by word.

We all know how poorly we ourselves write, or others write. We see awkward handwriting, incomprehensible connections, slipping meanings, wrong turnings, false steps, false claims upon the language and for themselves, empty noises, mere motions. Mere motions may be writing to rank with the most thought-provoking when a mind in its meditations is moving somewhere, absent from and yet somehow pervading the mere motions. Yet we dwell in a world, in an all-surrounding book whose every other line tells us to move along without telling us why we should; and if inchoate and aimless in our mumbling we go on, moving along because we sense that we must move along, we express ourselves so because we have come so far, no farther. We say what we can, given the conditions. We brush a leaf in passage. We avert a gaze, unable to meet one — if we are to move along. We look around, and not to our surprise see how many are taking the world's injunction to move along to mean that they must hurry, hurry, hurry.

And if you hurry — perhaps it is you — you may justify yourself if you will, but only if in haste and without doing more than complaining; and if I — perhaps it is I — take the world's injunction to mean that I must slow, slow, slow, I feel that, like you, I must justify myself even though hesitating before putting my slip of paper in the slot in the box reserved for complaints.

For if I place my slip of paper there I fear I lose sight of how much better it is to be writing upon the world than to be written upon.

Cheers ...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Sonnet and Trace

A year should seem busy to a writer, as a writer — or so one might judge from reading short biographies that appear in poetry magazines, such as the issues of POEM that have come to me this past year thanks to my contributions to those pages: a syllabic sonnet in issue 117, and a traditional one, in 118.

I remember that when the May issue arrived it surprised me yet came as a relief that some familiar names appeared alongside mine: for so often in these rushing years hard-won familiarities vanish — in the snow, it seems to me at the moment, having come inside after following a stray cat's solitary trace in light snow, down front sidewalk and along backyard paths and then away.

"And binding all is the hushed snow," Frost says in a poem about a place that one thinks has no snow, being always "verdured pasturewise." Heaven, that is — the heaven, perhaps, of Wordsworth. Yet Frost's line, even though it comes to mind, must point elsewhere than a trackless fresh snowfall: "And binding all is the hushed snow/ of the far-distant breaking wave." And that breaking wave — perhaps the wash of souls into Frost's heaven, or out from it.

And I remember the term "chicken scratchings" to describe writing — so that any collected poems might be named, Thus, My Chicken-Scratchings — to convey vitality or insignificance, but at least humility and humor.

This morning, in clearing the sidewalk, I pushed away traces left by boot, junco, Scottie dogs, bicycle, and the cat. The junco tracks delighted me, but went the way the other lighter ones did. The bicycle tracks surprised me, here in December, and remain despite my idle snow-pushing. I disliked seeing that a cat was going loose again in the yard, and so followed those traces. Such a busybody I was being, without planning to do more than stretch my legs and breathe fresh air after some reading.

None of which I set out to write — although all I set out to do was to say something about appearing in POEM again after going twenty years absent.

What I have said may as well stand in, though, for all the things unsaid.

Cheers ...

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