Archive for April, 2004


I fly out tomorrow to Asheville, North Carolina, where I will be giving a poetry reading on Thursday night at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Click here for details.

I seem to be dealing with my rage regarding the dog poop in my back yard a little bit better today, and the basement laundry issues have been resolved, much to the delight of some of the resident cats.

In the meantime, I leave you with the following exceedingly silly homage to Wallace Stevens:

(Not Even Close To) Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Bean Bean


The mailman is knocking.

The Bean Bean farts

a little and blames it on

one of the other cats.


A lawn mower

crescendos and decrescendos.

The Bean Bean purrs.


No one really knows

the Bean Bean.

They think they do.

But they don’t.

Not really.


Outside, tulips swell

and burn like lipstick-

colored lanterns.

All that thriving

makes the Bean Bean

rather sleepy.


All the furry mice

have been kicked

beneath the stove.

The Bean Bean

is serene.


It was breakfast

all through brunch.

The Bean Bean said

You big freak . . .

enough already!

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(1) This unrelenting sinusitis, which has not only left me with a searing, flaming pain in my sinus cavity, but also a 24/7 headache of a caliber that makes me seriously consider stabbing a pointy stick in my left eye to relieve the pressure and bring some relief . . . furthermore, in addition to the above, this pig-fucking sinusitis has had the audacity to drop down into my chest as well, to breed a nasty little lung fungus that causes me to cough myself into exhaustion all day and all night long.

(2) The neighbor who stuffs an inappropriate amount of laundry into the basement washer, causing it to malfunction and go on strike in protest, leading to the dispatching of a repairman and the concomitant inability of anyone else to do their laundry in the meantime, even though they are attempting to get ready for an out-of-town trip. Similarly, the neighbor who repeatedly abandons his laundry in the washer for extended periods of time . . . necessitating my having to make a decision about whether to (a) wait (even though it could be days!) for said neighbor to complete his laundry, (b) to remove the wet laundry and just let it sit (which is bound to make neighbor unhappy), or (c) to dry neighbor’s laundry for him in order to keep the flow of laundry going forward, even though I am not his fucking mother!

(3) The asshole who has been letting their dog into our back yard to poop big stinky dog poops all over the place. Everyone who lives in an apartment in this house has to walk through the backyard to get to their car, or to get to the basement laundry, and the backyard is a veritable land-mine of dog poop. If I find out who this rude motherfucker is, I’m going to start dumping cat poop on their front doorstep and yard so they can fully appreciate the magnanimous nature of neighborly reciprocity.

(4) Certain back-stabbing people who are not even actual members of the English Department who nonetheless are constantly trying to stir up trouble for me, and who think that it’s acceptable to attempt to send off incomplete galleys of a literary magazine (which were still missing the editor’s essay, contributors’ notes, and a second-round of proof-reading that uncovered well over 100 small edits/corrections that still needed to be made) to the printer without the permission of, or any prior consultation whasoever with, the editor of the issue (i.e., me).

That is all.

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Mostly I just like the way the word sinusitis sounds . . . particularly if you say it over and over again several times to yourself, so as to create a whispery, rustly susurration of sound. Sinusitis, sinusitis, sinusitis . . .

Admittedly, though, my upper nasal cavities have felt as if they’re being none-too-gently stripped with pipe cleaners this past week, therefore necessitating the aforementioned meditations on the word sinusitis.

I’m back from my recent travels. Both trips were wonderful . . . I met so many terrific people! A brief recap of my travels is as follows:


I flew into St. Louis for my reading at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where I was picked up at the airport by Allison Joseph and her husband, Jon Tribble. Allison and Jon both teach at SIU-Carbondale, where they also edit the literary journal, Crab Orchard Review. Both are poets (Allison is a year younger than me and has five books of poetry out because she’s that fabulous!). Jon is the editor of my new book, Year of the Snake. In fact, he singlehandedly edits the entirety of the Crab Orchard Award Series in Poetry. Here are Allison and Jon at the marvelous, marvelous Italian restaurant they took me to in St. Louis.

On the next day I received an official tour of the Mothership (i.e., SIU Press), and was able to meet in person a number of the very fine people who did such a lovely job on my book. Here I am, standing outside the Mothership with Jonathan Haupt, Karl Kageff, and Kathy Kageff.

At lunch I met the famous (dare I say infamous?) poet Rodney Jones for the first time . . . he is absolutely delightful! And over the lunch hour I had the opportunity to hear two SIUC M.F.A. students read from their work . . . they were both quite impressive. During the afternoon, I met with Judy Jordan’s creative writing class. Judy is a phenomenal poet . . . I first met her and read with her at a conference in Laramie, Wyoming, several summers back, where I purchased her first book, Carolina Ghost Woods, which totally knocked my socks off! (Plus, she has a multiplicity of pug dogs . . . with a Head Pug in Charge named Beauregard. One can’t help but really, really like a woman with a multiplicity of pugs, don’t you think?)

Following a sushi feast for dinner in Cape Girardeau (I was in sushi heaven!!), I gave my reading to a very kind and lovely audience. Post-reading libations ensued (woo hoo!), and I flew back home the next day.


My travels to Fredonia, New York, were such that it was a six-state travel day. I started off in Vermillion, South Dakota, after which I drove to Eppley Airfield (nestled along the banks of the Missouri River) in Omaha, Nebraska, with a stop on the way to refuel in Onawa, Iowa. I flew from Omaha, Nebraska to Detroit, Michigan, and after a brief layover, flew from Detroit to Erie, Pennsylvania, where I was picked up by poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil (author of the lovely book, Miracle Fruit), who drove me the rest of the way in to Fredonia, New York. I had the distinct honor of meeting Aimee’s dachsund, Villanelle, who has a very sweet face and is an all around Very Good Egg.

The next evening I gave my poetry reading to another very kind and generous audience. My youngest audience member to date was in attendance, a beautiful half-Japanese baby named Chika, who was so adorable that I pretty much wanted to nibble on her cheeks.

The following day I met with two of Aimee’s creative writing classes, and gave a noontime reading to a combined group of World Poetry classes. I really enjoyed meeting the students . . . they were terrific, and had interesting questions and comments about my poems.

The day was capped off with a dinner at a quirky Greek restaurant alongside picturesque Lake Erie (Doh! I forgot to take a picture of the lake!) with two of Aimee’s friends and colleagues — poet James Stevens and sinologist Maurizio Marinelli, both of whom were an absolute pleasure to spend time with! (I’m not sure what’s up with the compulsive linking . . . I started it, and then just couldn’t seem to stop.)

The next day I repeated the six-state-hop back home. It was wonderful to get to know Aimee and hang out with her . . . among other things, I discovered that having attended grad school in Columbus, Ohio, she has actually seen the albino squirrel referenced in my poem, Albino Squirrel. Everyone always thinks that I made up the albino squirrel, but no . . . the albino squirrel is real, and I finally have someone to corroborate this! This makes Aimee fabulous beyond all comprehension!

So . . . my travels. In a nutshell. I have a little bit under a week before I’m on the road again, and in the meantime, despite the sinusitis, it’s nice to be home where I can visit with my Special Dog Friends, and hang out with my cats — particularly so that I can watch my rapidly-growing kitten, Genji (a.k.a. the Bean Bean) run through his repertoire of sauve and quizzical poses for me.

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Just a quick note to say that I’m flying out tomorrow (via Omaha, Nebraska; Detroit, Michigan; and Erie, Pennsylvania) to Fredonia, New York, where I’ve been invited by the charming and talented Aimee Nezhukumatathil to give a poetry reading at SUNY-Fredonia on Wednesday night (if you click on the “poetry reading” link, scroll down the Campus Calendar column to Wednesday, April 14, for details). I’ll fly back on Friday, after which I’ll be spending the weekend in Abber Dabber, South Dakota. Internet access may be iffy, so I may have to wait until sometime next week to regale you with any (mis)adventures.

It’s still not at all too late to get your very own nifty-neato Year of the Snake postcard. If you’d like one, e-mail me with your snail-mail addy (international requests are fine, by the way) and a highly-coveted postcard can be yours!

In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful rest-of-the-week!

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Tomorrow, I fly out for another out-of-town poetry reading . . . this time I’ll be traveling to Carbondale, Illinois, to read at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale on Thursday night.

Just ask Genji (a.k.a. The Bean Bean) . . . he will attest to the fact that it has been a vexingly exhausting day.

First, there was a frantic scramble to finish proofreading the spring issue of South Dakota Review, and he had to assist by chewing on the pages, batting the red pen around, and periodically absconding with the entire dispenser of sticky flags . . . which he would eventually manage to shove either under the refrigerator, or under the stove.

Secondly, there was much laundry to do, and he had to assist by playing tug of war with socks and underwear, as well as napping with fierce and determined concentration on the warm laundry upon return from the dryer.

And finally, he had to supervise the packing.

Shocking, isn’t it? There should be Kitten Labor Laws!

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For perverse and obscure reasons, I’ve decided to share the Demented Tutu photograph referenced in the post below. Mainly because it brought to the surface a lot of strange, childhood memories for me that I hadn’t thought about in awhile. Such as the fact that all my childhood pictures were taken on my parents’ dining room table for mysterious reasons still somewhat unbeknownst to me. I remember the photo shoots as being lengthy, and tedious, and that there was lots of poking and prodding and primping involved — my father taking roll after roll of film. My mother choreographed these photo sessions with the grim, relentless determination of a drill sergeant. They frequently involved multiple costume changes — baton twirler, sailor, cowboy . . . and the awkward assumption of psychotically frenetic and perky poses that I now suspect she culled from vintage 1950’s children’s sweater pattern booklets from companies such as Clark, Spinnerin, and Bernat. Booklets which featured well-groomed, well-fed, well-mannered, dimpled, doe-eyed, wholesome white children, and which I think my mother consulted heavily, along with a book in Japanese she owned called The American Way of Housekeeping, as various sorts of guidebooks for assimilation.

I remember the days surrounding the taking of this picture very well. It was my first ballet recital, and I was about five years old. Having taken a rather lackadaisical and slacker-esque approach to my ballet studies, my mother was horrified to come to parents’ day at the ballet studio to find that I was dreamily futzing around in the back row. Not only that, we were rehearsing our dance with batons, which would be replaced with little parasols come dress rehearsal, and due to some simmering aggressions between myself and my two ballet carpool companions, a bit of a melee broke out amongst the three of us in which, in the middle of the dance, we ended up viciously trying to bash each others’ brains out with our batons.

Outraged, my mother put me on a strict rehearsal regimen once we were home, in which she took it upon herself to singlehandedly promote me from Back-Row Ballet Slackerdom to Front-and-Center Ballet Stardom. There was a lot of yelling and crying involved.

These types of personal improvement projects, in which my mother was the Improver and I was the Improvee, however, were not altogether foreign to me. My mother was big on coaching. Before taking me to any sort of party, my mother would drill me for hours beforehand, asking me potential questions to which I was expected to deliver back the answers she had given me — sometimes even with cocquettish accompanying physical gestures she had devised. (“What does your father do?” “My father’s an important Arthur!” (It was supposed to be “author,” but at the time, with her Japanese accent, I honestly though my mother was saying “Arthur,” which was confusing, since Arthur wasn’t my father’s name.))

On the day of the ballet recital, which is the day I believe the Demented Tutu photograph was taken, I was in Deep Shit. I remember my mother kept putting these pink plastic curlers — one on each side — in my hair, secured with a green blob of Dippity Do. I somehow managed to lose the curlers on two separate occasions . . . once by accident, and once under peer pressure at the across-the-street neighbor girl’s house, who talked me into removing the curlers and putting on some of her mother’s make-up. As a result, my mother had to wash my hair and re-Dippity Do it twice, and she wasn’t happy about it, either. Due to her rigorous at-home rehearsal sessions, I had been promoted to front and center for the ballet recital, but clearly I was a Loose Cannon, and could not necessarily be relied upon to not fuck things up on the Big Night.

So here I am, on my parents’ dining room table, in the Dying Swan Pose — hands arranged by my mother in what looks to me like a dead-on rendition of the heavy metal, devil horn’s up signs, my bolo-head haircut modified by two cement-like Dippity Do curls lacquered to each side of my head.

Yes, I remember these photo sessions as being somewhat tense — my mother cranky and critical, me feeling bored, skulky, and unhappy. But perhaps, for my mother, there was more at stake than the mere capturing of snapshots. In retrospect, my mother was clearly fashioning and manufacturing images — images clearly intended to represent her own Americanness, or perhaps more importantly to her, my Americanness . . . images that proved that we fit in, that we were like any typical 1950’s family (except that this was actually the early 1970’s), that we were, indeed, assimilated. It seems troubling and sad that this had to be proved at all to start with, but even more so in that my mother had to prove this on two continents . . . for these were the pictures that she sent to her father, my Japanese grandfather, as validation for the life she had chosen, with a “Yankee,” no less, in America.

What seems somewhat apparent, at least to me, as I think about all of these photographs, is the underlying sense of strain . . . the feeling that making these images had been terribly hard work, that they were a product of trying too hard, and that the deliberation that went behind all the costuming, choreographing and posing, rather than capturing the 1950’s wholesome Americana my mother had been striving for, instead revealed the oddities and occasionally destructive eccentricities of our household.

And having been a child who frequently felt constricted by the various masks that my mother insisted I wear, I’m thankful that I can now, as an adult, glimpse the subtext of these oddities and eccentricities behind these images. They let me know that maybe I was still really there all along, after all.

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After returning late Sunday evening from Chicago, unpacking, and then puttering about the apartment in a jittery, tired/wired state, I eventually hit the sack and woke up on Monday morning with all three cats purring and snoring loudly on the bed. I also found that I’d been systematically snugged in and encircled with almost every kind of cat toy imaginable — there was a scratchy raffia ball, a jingle-bell mouse with fuzzy tail, a blue catnip dog, a feather dangle toy, as well as a crackly mouse, crackly butterfly, and crackly frog. It made me feel very happy, and I was glad to be home.

The conference was good. The reading went just fine and was well-attended, and all the copies of my book that had been brought to the conference were sold!

I met a fellow writer/teacher whose mother and grandmother had apparently been longtime friends and correspondents of my father’s. He came around looking for me at the South Dakota Review table, and surprised me with a picture of myself at age 5 — standing on the dining room table in some demented dying-swan pose choreographed by my mother (who liked to master-mind these hour-long photo shoots on top of the dining room table), at my parents’ house in Wyoming, in the yellow tutu costume thingy from my very first ballet recital. He’d apparently made the rounds and been showing this picture to my publishers/editors, as well as to my colleagues, before kindly forking it over into my possession! All I can say is at least it wasn’t the Batman costume. Enough said.

Click here to see the Amazon.com listing for Year of the Snake, which is now officially up and running. Also, don’t forget to e-mail me if you’d like to receive a groovy, Year of the Snake postcard. It’s not too late, and you know you want one!

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