Winter’s all-nighter a terrifying 2:30 a.m. joyride to the airport in lazy champagne bubbles of fizzing snow, your dashboard reading twenty-three below.

I-29 punctuated with stalled-out cars and trucks — blinking hazards a festive spritz of twinkly lights, glowing emergency roadside triangles, the light-show rave and swoop of ambulance beams gyrating on a backdrop of white, snow-banked shoulders.

So many metal beasts with stopped hearts, waiting for defibrillation.

Your turn-signal blinkers too frozen to blink. Your engine softly coughs.

Your toes turn to a painful glitter of icy sparkling nubs.

Your breath circling from your mouth in such a hyperbole of cascading swirls and plumes that you swear you’re exhaling out your own ghost.

(Out with the old / in with the new)

And you’re almost glad of it — this exhalation, this scourge — even though you fear it will leave behind only a frozen carapace that, when thawed, will shatter like glass under hot water.

What you welcome, though, is the aperture: a dazzling, scoured space to welcome light.

3:30 a.m. airport’s fluorescent glaze, ribbony rat maze to the TSA checkpoint, back-scatter x-ray scan, and security pat-down seems surreal after being spit out of the frozen, cavernous black.

When you land in MSP there’s a hubbub in the terminal: a dalmatian puppy! Everyone wants to stop and smile and pet this warm and polka-dotted and newly-wagging life.

A Poetics of Cold

Today four below zero, with a low of negative fourteen.

Tomorrow, seven below, with a low of negative twenty-two.

Shivery-braille-of-goosebumps-rising-under-three-fleece-blankets-in-the-morning cold.

A sandwich your chilled lunchmeat of self with a heating pad in back, the hot toasted breath of a space heater in front, garnished and condimented with four pudgy cats kind of cold.

Car-battery-dying-a-quiet-death-in-the-middle-of-dinner cold. Frozen blue corrosion like a blueberry slushie spilled around the battery cable terminal.

Cold snap means a heaving lake of ice tinkling a song of clear glass wind chimes and broken champagne flutes.

The nylon of your down coat crackles like brittle sheets of aluminum foil.

The cartilage inside your nostrils stiffens to hard cold rubber.

Your blood slows, your thoughts turn sluggish and you misplace your phone, despairingly search through the alley trash, raw and pink as any unfurred thing in the snow.

So much ache and sting; this numb, stale freezer burn.

Such a brutal hostage taking: this confessional spill of the body’s most intimate heat and light, this non-consensual vulnerability.

Che Vuoi???

For the past month, in my Panda Planner, under “passion project” I’ve been writing down “Resurrect Blog???” I’m not sure what’s up with the question marks . . . perhaps it has something to do with too-many ongoing priorities, the constant feeling of overcommitment and overwhelm, the coming to terms with dwindling reserves of energy. Yet I’ve been stubbornly writing it down every week as something I want to do for myself: something I want to do for myself as a writer, as a person.

The question marks, though. They seem a little bit wistful to me. So much of 2017 has been conducted in Emergency Crisis Mode. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis and surgery in April. Eight weeks post-surgery having to return to Wyoming to help my elderly parents (after they stopped speaking to me three years ago, following the publication of my book, Dandarians), followed by a mad dash back to Vermillion several days before the fall semester started  to hit the floor running in the most ungraceful possible way for a busy and chaotic semester: behind, unprepared, stressed, tired, preoccupied, cancer experience completely unprocessed.

At the time, I felt that the late start was worth it, though, because I thought that I’d managed to get things squared away for my parents well enough that they would at least be in a temporarily safe holding pattern: house much cleaner and in better working order, adaptive equipment purchased, contractor hired to make accessibility renovations, home healthcare in place. After my father returned home from the care center, though, where he had spent the summer rehabbing a broken hip, my parents immediately began refusing their home healthcare services, and in a matter of weeks, everything came unraveled: my father was driving again against doctors’ orders, my parents were both losing too much weight, they were having trouble with meals and bills and dates and prescriptions, failure to thrive, failure to thrive, failure to thrive.

My father went back into the hospital in early December, is now back in the care center, and my Japanese mother’s alone in the house again for the second time in their 62-year marriage. On top of a constant clusterfuck of professional commitments and deadlines, there’s now a veritable tsunami of daily problems that need to be solved: legal, financial, medical, domestic.

I’m the only child, and also now the only one in the family who currently has the capacity to think clearly, and it feels lonely.

Facebook feels hollow and lonely, too, in certain ways. I miss the potential for nuance, for complexity, that seems more possible in the blogosphere.

Resurrect blog???

I think of the ways in which blogging played a role in the genesis of my third and fourth books of poetry. Of the ways in which blogging helped me to write my way into becoming a budding essayist. Of the ways in which blogging was so formative to creating a sense of writerly/poetic community during times that I felt isolated or lonely in the SoDakian Tundra.

Everything right now feels so ???: the constant hideous uncertainties and instabilities perpetrated by a cruel and corrupt administration, ever-looming ecocide, coming to terms with one’s parents’ mortality, coming to terms with one’s own mortality.

Maybe the tentativeness of Resurrect blog??? is about feeling simultaneously embroiled in a flurry of overcommitment and hopelessly stymied/paralyzed. Feeling overstimmed to the point of numbness. Like the helicopter-wing thrum of dragonfly wings stilled in amber.

And it’s not that I wish for certainty, which strikes me as being much too rigid, and inflexible, anyhow.

Maybe I just want more quiet space to articulate my own ??? Or perhaps to see if any of you are feeling ??? as well. Or to hear possible responses to this sense of ???



the holland tunnel
a long shiny paper towel tube
(if paper towel tubes
were like the insides of abalone)
streaked by a graffiti
of red headlights
i tried to cut my bangs
with cuticle scissors
in front of the mirror
at hotel 17
which is never a good idea
but i had a sudden
and terrible desire
for them to be somehow
more kathleen hanna-esque
i bought hello kitty ugly dolls
and the infinite wait
at forbidden planet, plus
tons of bendis and ellis
it’s sad to wake up at home
alone in a hungover fog
of jetlag and ativan and pokemon
i can hear the cats busily licking
condensation from the shower curtain
in the next room, hello?


Well, so there have been rumblings and grumblings and artillery fire in the distance, and I have insisted on being very ostrich-head-in-the-sand-y about things here at Heartichoke Headquarters, but the first department meeting of the fall semester always, to my mind, constitutes the official opening salvo of the academic calendar.

I feel like I’m still, in many respects, processing what feels like a gloriously whirlwindish summer — much in the same way I’m still organizing and editing photographs from my travels. I’m at an interesting place where the images and physical memories of being in the places where the pictures were taken still seems quite fresh and clear, but the photographs themselves — particularly the ones I like the most — seem like a shocking surprise. They are rapidly becoming their own discrete objects. This process seems more fluid to me — more like a Polaroid developing — than the instantaneous not-the-thing-itselfness — that constant separation/mediation between thought/image/speech/memory — that happens with poetry and prose. During my travels, I consciously made an effort to spend time with the camera down, simply looking/being without the mediation of the lens, without documenting, and these are the moments I can call up very clearly within my mind. The pictures, though? Constant surprises after-the-fact. I love this process of re-vision.

But the fall semester. It loometh.

I think what I appreciate the most about summer is the opportunity to become more of a student myself again. To learn/try/see new things, to read off-topically and on-topically, to establish better (ha!) study habits, to just sometimes be very still/quiet, and — most importantly — to reestablish connections with my own writing that inevitably deteriorate during the height of end-of-the-semester craziness (if not earlier). So I’m concerned about losing sight of some of these things once I layer some of the other components back in. Mostly it’s not wanting to turn into Grading Borg. Or, worse yet, Crabby Procrastinating Grading Borg.

I adore fall, though, and the clean slate-ishness of the new school year. I’m happy about the classes I’m teaching, and really looking forward to seeing my students again. This always seems like a time of excitement and energy for me: shiny protractors, new rulers, crayons with wax-perfect tips, the smell of fresh pencil shavings, and pinkpink erasers!

In the meantime? There’s a Lemon Refrigerator Cheesecake (with homemade lemon curd) chillaxing in the fridge for tonight’s back-to-school departmental potluck.

Balsam, Wella and Alberto. Breck.
Body on Tap (but don’t drink it). Breck.
Silkience. Agree?
Twice as Nice. Agree?
Tame Dorothy Hamill’s Short & Sassy wedge.
Victoria Principal for Jhirmack.
LemonUp. Juicy Green Apple. Breck.
Breck Girl, Twice as Nice.
Breck Girl, Body onTap.
Silkience Milk Plus 6 with Wheat Germ
Oil and Honey Twice as Nice.
Helps stop the greasies.
Body on Tap.
Body on Tap.
Body on Tap.
Tame Breck Girl, Agree?

AH: I got a new kitten.

JM: You got a what?

AH: A kitten.

JM: A chicken?

AH: A kitten.

JM: Oh . . . a chicken.

AH: Okay. Sure. A chicken.

JM: How many chicken you have now?

AH: Four.

JM: What? You got four chicken? You must be crazy!

AH: I got a new chicken. The other three chickens were here before.

JM: Four chicken!

AH: Four chickens, yes.

JM: I bet they all climb up on table and do whatever they please. Try climb up on your leg. Complete out of control. So how many chicken you have total? Four chicken?

AH: Four chickens, yes.

JM: So you going to be that person.

AH: I guess so.

JM: Such no-good useless chicken. You can’t even eat it. Maybe you stuff with catnip and roast in oven? Chicken is good to eat!

* * *

JM: Did you hear about Jet Blue flight attendant? He can’t stand anymore and go slide down slide!

AH: Yeah, I heard about that.

JM: You must be spend money all the time flying here and there. And they charge you for everything. You want take bag. They charge it! You want snack. They charge it! You want pillow. They charge it! No wonder you don’t own your own house.


JM: And oh! I such worry because everywhere they have bed bug! And you all the time go stay in expensive hotel. So then you going to bring home bed bug! You better check your sheet before you sleep in it! I tell you. Everywhere you like to go, you end up with bed bug. And can’t get rid of!


JM: When I fly from Japan time, everybody dress up so elegant for go flying. Wear nice suit. And hat. And high heel. Now everybody wear broken blue jean and tee shirt! Or sweat pants! And then I heard about worm come down from ceiling!

AH: What?

JM: Worm! Fall out of ceiling! So-call maggots! Everyone scream to death!

AH: Maggots?

JM: And rat crawling around on floor! I so worry! You promise me you check your seat first before you sit down on plane.

There was a gift of an entire idyllic day at the Chicago Art Institute earlier this summer, many hours of which were spent circling around and around the William Eggleston: Democratic Camera exhibit.

I couldn’t stop looking.

The dye-transfer coloring is visually beautiful, of course — something about the heated intensity of the color giving the gritty quotidian realities within the photographs an almost surreal patina — a lacquered, Cutex-nail-polished weird glamour.

Visual pleasure was only part of it, though. The tension between the visual beauty of the images, and the uneasy grotesqueries of their content, was heart-rending for me. The attentiveness — the mindfulness, if you will — of the aesthetic resonated very strongly with and for me, but it was ultimately a sense of the tenderness of the gaze that completely unraveled me. An acceptance of the shabby, the crazy, the not-beautiful, the banal, and the mundane. Everything seemingly as it is, and therefore completely unshelled. Completely vulnerable. An aperture open to aperture. And because of that tenderness of looking unspeakably beautiful.

That these pictures — particularly the ones from Los Alamos — seemed full of kitschy cultural tropes from my own 1970’s childhood in Wyoming (where everything was always a little bit behind–flower power and disco a thin varnish over sedimental layers of 1950’s and rugged frontier sensibilities) is undoubtedly also part of their appeal for me: a Jarrellian Lost World of sorts, maybe. And it’s not an easy nostalgia, or a Lost World that I would ever care to return to, but rather a place of terrible vulnerability, helplessness, and suffering.

Eggleston’s photographs capture this sense of a Lost World in the fleeting instant at which it’s lost in each passing moment, and it’s a Lost World that’s revealed as uncertain, vulnerable, and in pain; chock-a-block with fraying banalities of kitsch and schlock — banalities that are recognizable from my own cultural vocabulary and which ultimately end up, perhaps, underscoring my own poignant sense of the Japanese aesthetic of utsuroi, or evanescence.

This image, an untitled photograph of simple plastic animals on a worn table, made me weep the first time I saw it. A completely personal response in many respects, I’m sure, but still . . . why? How? Maybe something about the aleatoric/chance randomness of the animals almost like a John Cage composition. (In fact, for some reason it made me think of the colored vocal lines in “Aria (1958)”.) Maybe it’s the questions that get raised — and every Eggleston photograph raises unanswered questions. Maybe it’s the attentiveness of the eye that notices. Or maybe the tenderness of the framing and the recording. Democratic is the word that is used for Eggleston’s approach/aesthetic, and yes, this seems true to me, but what I feel so powerfully moved by is, I think, the large compassion of his vision.

JM: Oh, you call! I surprise you call. We don’t hear from you for such long time, I don’t know what happen to you! We worry to death! And so I checking, checking all the time weather report where you are, and they say it raining there, and I think uh oh! Maybe you such stupid driving when rain time and have car accident!

AH: If you were worried, you should have called me.

JM: I don’t know if you home or not. Always you go here or there. Who know?

AH: Yeah, but I always have my cell phone with me, so you should just call.

JM: But I don’t want you try talk on phone while driving.

AH: Well then I’ll see that you called and when I’m not driving, I’ll call you back.

JM: But what if you somewhere and other people around? I don’t want everyone can overhear our private conversation.

AH: Um . . . ?

JM: Anyway, I so worry! What going to happen if you slip outside your apartment, and bung! You hit your head! Some professor here last winter go outside to smoke cigarette and she fall down and hit her head! And nobody find her. So she freeze to death! Isn’t that crazy?

AH: Yeah. Kind of.

JM: Anyway, I thought you go teach in Nebraska and afterward maybe just poop out. Your father and I, we went to Cheyenne and all walking walking all day long and complete poop out. We come home and sleep like dead people! So I thought maybe you go teach for ten days and after you been home you complete poop out and sleeping like dead person all this time!

AH: Yeah, I’ve been tired. But I’ve been trying to get a lot of writing done before school starts.

JM: You better! Is doggy-dog world! You have to publish! Or perish! You go here or there all somewhere, wherever you please, so I don’t know when you have time to writing! So you don’t watch out, you end up perish!

AH: Um, I’m a Full Professor? I think that if I haven’t perished yet, I’m probably going to be okay?

JM: Full Professor, but still tonkachi head. Hey!

AH: Yeah?

JM: When you go back teach Nebraska again? Christmas time?

AH: Yeah.

JM: Oh, goody goody! You get to go to marvelous New Year party, don’t you?

AH: Yeah.

JM: But I have to tell you something. Don’t eat Oyster Rockefeller when you go! Don’t eat it! You don’t watch television, so only get so-called internet or whatever. I don’t know if you know about oil spill or not. So I going to tell you. Don’t eat it!

AH: I know about the oil spill. And I’ll tell you what. I won’t eat the oysters if you’ll stop buying meat with hinky expiration dates.

JM: You mean Dead Meat? From the Dead Meat Section?

AH: Exactly.

JM: You don’t buy from Dead Meat Section?

AH: I don’t buy a lot of meat, but when I do, I don’t buy the Dead Meat. No.

JM: Wow! You must be rich! We on social security now. And you know, you such blood sucker. Sucking, sucking all your parents’ money. Have to send you to music school. But hey, guess what?

AH: What?

JM: Your father brought Alaska King Crab and we going to eat today!

AH: That sounds great! Are you going to put a newspaper down on the table and hammer it?

JM: Well, I been thinking very carefully about it, and I don’t want to hammer. I have nutcracker. So going to crack open that way. And guess what else?

AH: What?

JM: I going to use scissors and very neatly cut open and take out whole big piece at once and dunk in butter. No smash. That’s what I been thinking about.

AH: Okay, then.

JM: Yeah. So that’s what I been thinking.


Nanami the Kitten: [nuzzling Nobu the cat’s belly] Got milk?

Nobu the Cat: Dude! WTF?!

Nanami the Kitten: [persistently] Got milk???

Nobu the Cat: [resignedly flopping on his side ] Whatever.

* * *

Heartichoke to Nanami the Kitten: Hey, where did all your whiskers go? Why don’t you have any whiskers? Nobu! Did you chew off all the kitten’s whiskers?

Nobu the Cat: [crickets]

Heartichoke to Nobu the Cat: Don’t you make the ajapa face at me, mister.

Nobu the Cat: [ crickets]