Archive for August, 2005


I just heard from someone who’s coordinating a reading series I’m scheduled to do a reading for that, according to his bookstore sources, my first book, Beyond Heart Mountain, is out of print.

Although I haven’t independently verified this with my publisher yet, it seems most likely that it’s true, since it did come out in 1999. Nonetheless, isn’t one’s publisher actually supposed to TELL you when this happens? Give you a head’s up? Offer you the opportunity to buy up remaindered copies, etc.?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

I feel like the time my beloved American grandfather died in the middle of the spring semester my second year away at college and my parents didn’t even tell me until I came home for summer break because they didn’t want my grades to suffer.


I know this sort of thing is inevitable. But still, I feel like something has died.

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I’m rushing around today because I’m a No-Goodnik and a Procrastinator. (Is it me, or does the word procrastination always sound just a little bit naughty, like some sort of specialty fetish?) But a few quick snippets:

First of all, I would like to confess that I’m obsessed with artichokes. So much so, that one of my secret desires it to someday attend the Castroville Artichoke Festival. The Agro-Art involving artichokes, in particular, would be worth the trip.

You should also probably know that I occasionally like to visit the Artichoke Advisory Board webpage. Is it wrong that I sometimes fantasize about being made an honorary member of the Artichoke Advisory Board? I particularly like to check in on the Artichoke News link. I mean, how can one resist a headline such as: “California Artichokes Basking in Cool Summer Days for a Season of Great Summer and Fall Fun”? It’s fucking hypnotic . . . I’m telling you.

And finally (I love this): the heartichoke.

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Although I have been putting off thinking about it in more than an advance-planning, hypothetically theoretical sort of a way, given that this morning is the first real meeting of the new academic year, I realize that I can no longer be like an ostrich with its head in the sand, and must finally face up, in a flesh-and-blood-and-guts sort of way, to the advent of the fall semester.

In a way, it’s a huge relief. I really enjoy interacting with my students and colleagues, I love my job, and my duties and roles are very clearly defined, for the most part. Complex and engaging, yes, but still clearly defined in contrast to the much more amorphous writing/planning/replenishing time of the summer. In other words, it’s much easier for me, in certain respects, to feel competent and energized during the school year because I always have a very full roster of things I either need to be doing, should be doing, or could be doing, and when I do them (even when they occasionally feel loathsome and onerous) I feel, well . . . energized and competent.

This is in contrast to the summer writing time where the process is much more mercurial, where I can work very hard for lengthy stretches with what at the time may seem like minimal results, where (knowing myself and the quirks of my work process) if I really want to be productive I have to hole up and dig in, which inevitably makes me feel very ingrown and strange. And I’m sure that when I feel ingrown and strange, I pretty much am ingrown and strange.

Of course, at the same time, I have to really fight to scrape together writing time during the regular academic year, and there is definitely a part of me that’s mourning that loss this morning–while at the same time acknowleding the enormously huge gift of just having had (after summer moving and summer-session teaching) a month and a half of summer writing time.

One of the more challenging things for me, writing wise, is getting myself to really slow down enough to enter into the process. And during the school year it can feel a little schizophrenic to be dashing madly along at full tilt in order to carve out writing time for myself, and then having to come to a screeching halt and slow myself down in order to make good use of that writing time.

Oh, and did I mention that I am a slow writer? A painfully, excruciatingly slow writer. Those Hollywood movies where writers are typing along in steady streams of 100 words a minute because they’re all inspired and shit really make me want to jab a pointy stick in my eye. But I digress.

Transitions are hard. But they can also be a good thing, too.

Early mornings are hard. I’m less convinced about their inherent goodness.

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JM: I’m so glad somebody finally want take some of your poems because you have such long dry spell when nobody want to publish anything. I so relief! I been so worry!

AH: (Defensively) It wasn’t that long.

JM: Such long time. You don’t pay attention like I do so you don’t know. And I don’t want to say anything so I keep my mouth shut. But I keep try to tell you have to keep writing, keep sending. Have to work all the time. I don’t think you been listening to me.

AH: (Defensive WTF-style silence).

JM: See, you don’t have anything to say for self. Whenever you don’t like to admit truth about self you don’t answer. I know you. I can tell. Just like ostrich stick its head in sand. That’s how I can tell you guilty.

AH: Guilty of what?

JM: Guilty not publishing. Instead you perishing. (Laughs hysterically at her own joke).


JM: Don’t wear that crazy shirt to give reading in any more, okay?

AH: What crazy shirt? (I know exactly what shirt she’s talking about because it’s my Good Luck Reading Shirt, but I so don’t want to go there, so I’m playing dumb, and being all ostrich-with-its-head-in-the-sand-y.)

JM: You know that shirt I said look nice? Like Lady Murasaki?

AH: (Dubiously). Yeah?

JM: Well, I lying. I don’t want to say anything before, so I just keep my mouth shut, but really, it look like muumuu. Very hippy looking. Not like professor.

AH: (To self: Fuckitty Fuck Fuck Fuck.)

JM: Hey. You hear me? Don’t wear that one anymore, okay?

AH: Oh. My. God. Don’t even make me say this out loud. You’re jinxing my Good Luck Reading Shirt. Do you know what you’re doing to me here?

JM: Hello good luck reading shirt! Don’t be stupid. Is Bad Luck Hippy Muumuu. I don’t care jinx it. I give you Big Jinx, so then you have to wear nice suit from now on and look dignify like professor instead.

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I’m currently camped out at the residence of my dear friends, Susan and Cathy. I’m doing some dog/house-sitting while they’re visiting their grandchildren. Because I am a Complete and Total Dork, I’m going to take the opportunity to introduce you all to their menagerie, because it’s not bad enough that I obsessively indulge in Cat Blogging from my own home, I must now apparently colonize the homes of my friends and do Pet Blogging from their places of abode as well.

All of these delightful critters, it bears noting, have been rescued/adopted from less-than-ideal circumstances, but now have a Very Nice Life, as evidenced by the three-page, single-spaced instructional booklet sheet(s) devoted to their feeding preferences, maintenance, and emotional well-being.

Andy: Andy is the Alpha Dog and don’t you forget it!
Likes: Belly rubs, chewies, acting like a Miss Bossy Pants and making everyone else do the Miss Bossy Pants Dance
Dislikes: Having people pay too much attention to Buddy instead of acknowledging her (i.e., Andy’s) sheer and overwhelming fabulosity, mailmen, having her picture taken

Buddy: Big goofy lug-bug!
Likes: Hugs, wedging his snout into armpits and such, making the Booda Hedgehog oink and squeak in submission because Buddy is the boss of it, a couple pasta noodles in his food thank you very much
Dislikes: Thunderstorms, thunderstorms, thunderstorms

Sugar: “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.”
Likes: Sitting on paper, having her picture taken, begging for extra food
Dislikes: Being ignored when begging for extra food

Spice: “Let me lick your nose for you!”
Likes: Getting pets, Buddy, having people randomly burst forth singing, “Spice-a-Roni! the San Francisco Treat!”
Dislikes: D’Arcy

D’Arcy: A.K.A. The Garbanzo
Likes: Cathy’s homemade cat food, Cathy, Connie
Dislikes: Spice, any time when Cathy’s not home, getting pilled with pill to alleviate his anxiety resulting from his intense dislike of Spice

Connie: Short for Conrad–the marmalade hunka love on the left
Likes: Eating pumpkin out of other household members’ food dishes, eating in general, D’Arcy, stealing D’Arcy’s pill bottle and carrying it around the house at night and hiding it
Dislikes: Being hugged to excess by housesitter while being told he’s a hunka hunka burning marmalade love

And finally, a shout out and big thanks to Profgrrrrl for the lovely postcard from the Japanese Gardens in Portland. I was very tickled to receive it here in South Dakota last week.

Aren’t the Internets fun?

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Alongside the new poetry manuscript, I’ve also been working on a novel-in-stories about classical musicians, set in a fictional music school, which I think may be done. Not done done as in completely revised and polished, but done in the sense that I think I now have a fairly complete draft on my hands. The manuscript currently stands at about 250 pages, with seven short stories and a 75-page novella–all interconnected with overlapping characters. I’ve placed two of the stories so far: one in the recent 30th-anniversary issue of River Styx, and another story forthcoming in North American Review.

I’m sure that there’s still a lot of work yet to be done, but quite frankly, I’m a little bit amazed at the fact that the manuscript is now in existence. I know that probably sounds overly dramatic and a little bit silly, but I feel as if I’ve spent a very long time really wanting to write fiction and not being at all sure whether or not I could actually pull it off. The manuscript is sitting on my desk, in a tentative order now, and it seems like such a strange and unfamiliar beast . . . I don’t know if it’s any good or not, but it’s there, it exists. The pages are really real and they’re all filled with words and music and characters who seem very familiar and visceral to me now.

I’m glad it’s not done done yet, because in all honesty, I’m not really ready to quite let go. That, and I’m not sure where I’d like to go next, which is always a very vulnerable and unsettling place for me. Whenever possible, I like to know what I’m going to work on next before I let go of the last thing. Otherwise, it seems entirely possible that I could fall into a crack in between one thing and the next and just get lost and never come back. With the poetry manuscript wrapping itself up and a new academic year starting, I feel as if I need to hold myself back from the edge of what could be a precipice until I can build myself a little bit of a bridge. So it’s good that it’s not done done. For all of those reasons. But maybe I can, for now, declare it officially Medium Rare.

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I woke up this morning after having had the strangest dream. I was in an anonymous motel room somewhere, and I had in my custody a ferret and a polar bear cub. Only the ferret was an extremely large ferret–sort of a cat-sized ferret, actually–with silky-soft reddish-brown fur. The ferret particularly liked to have its stomach rubbed. The polar bear cub was a round white bean of a cub–very tiny–the size of the newborn polar bear cubs Klondike and Snow who were hand-raised at the Denver Zoo after having been rejected by their mother. It seemed very important to me that I keep the ferret and the polar bear separate, and for lack of better containment systems, I had each of them stored in large plastic Hamster Habitrail houses. The ferret, however, wouldn’t stay inside its Habitrail–it kept climbing out and making me rub its stomach–and then the next thing I knew, the polar bear cub popped off the top if its Habitrail. I felt very concerned that the polar bear cub would eat the ferret, even though the ferret was technically larger. I put the polar bear cub back in its Habitrail, and it popped off the plastic top again. This, time, however, as it stood up on its hind legs, it sprouted up in front of my very eyes into a full-grown polar bear. “Well shit,” I thought to myself. “Now I’m going to have to take it to Sea World.” And so, for protection, I wrapped white hotel towels around my hands until they resembled giant Q-Tips, and plotted on how to cajole the full-grown polar bear into my car so I could drive it to Sea World. (For some reason, I was driving a Geo Metro.)

Interpretations welcome.

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I’ve been slogging along all day long painstakingly writing a(nother) paper on The L-Word. There are aspects of this process that I find very engaging, but at the same time I’m reminded that critical work inevitably makes me want to flop around on the floor making incoherent “Grrr! Argh!”-type noises.

I just came back in from taking out the trash, and in my neighbors’ flower gardens, I saw the most amazing, huge, whings-whirring-in-a-propeller-like-blur Sphinx Moth. It was so softly furred I wanted to stroke its back with my index finger, but I didn’t want to frighten it away.

Some of my friends stopped by in the evening with a bounty from their vegetable garden: home-grown peaches, cucumbers, zucchini, and best of all, a fatly shellacked shiny eggplant! I ate one of the peaches, flesh still warm from the afternoon sun, in wet greedy mouthfuls over the kitchen sink.

And in honor of Friday Cat Blogging, I offer you a Still Life with Cat and Eggplant. I suppose, to be more accurate, it should be titled Still Life with Eggplant and Cat Obnoxiously Rifling Through Plastic Bag of Cucumbers.

And finally, Household Security has shockingly captured on camera the presence of an Eggplant Licker on the premises.

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I have a poem forthcoming in the Fall issue of Beloit Poetry Journal which is apparently being described as my “entomological paean to Eros.”

I think that’s delicious.

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I’ve been doing a lot of work this last month on ordering the poems in my new manuscript–a task I always enjoy and like to draw out a little bit. I like that shuffling, fiddling, fussing, readjusting, and general sense of play that goes into structuring a book. This, I’ve decided, will be the first poem in the book:


7:00 a.m., and in the crepuscular gray-silk light
shimmering pairs of raised socket rings rimming
the eyes of goldfish glint like burnished mother-
of-pearl. Their shadowed bodies have the bored,
languorous air of fan dancers French-inhaling
Lucky Strikes backstage before the dusty velvet
curtain creaks, then comes clattering up. Peach
green tea dallies in my mouth like a nostalgia
of fat, silky petals, and the Siamese cat rests
one chill, suspiciously damp paw on my neck.
The scent of sunburnt peaches arabesques in a fine
wraith of steam from the blue mug the way your
name kept twizzling, curlicuing and disappearing
through my sleep last night, slippery between
my fingers, smooth and fine as cinnamon.

I think of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil and how,
in her letters to friends, she kept exclaiming,
The snails here are as big as dinner plates!
Did you know snails are hermaphrodites?
Or that, during courtship, they slowly circle one
another, lightly touching each other along the neck
with their antennae-tipped eyes and nudging
their soft, blunt heads, forehead to forehead, before
firing off a pair of fierce love darts, to break
each other’s skin and pierce the tender flesh inside?
Isn’t it a strange thought? A love dart?
But really, aren’t we all strange fruit ripening
outward from our navelsdusky or pale, fleshy
and moonstruckafter being clipped from the vine?
And don’t we cushion our hearts like big cracked
seeds inside a tangled nest of membrane, skin
and pulp before they whirl away like dervishes
on propeller-light wings, or end up tucked into
the dark musky cheeks of squirrels, when the body’s
false promises have long been forgotten?

Although maybe that’s not true. Maybe our hearts
aren’t seeds, but birds. Maybe our hearts
are cormorants, diving at night for sweet fish
in a blaze of torch light on the Nagara River
in Japan, and our bodies are the leather rings
fishermen strap around the necks of the birds
to keep them from swallowing the fish. And still
mine keeps diving, diving through the night,
against a bone-hollowing hunger unfulfilled,
and even in spite of the old Japanese folk saying:
Crows who try to be cormorants drown.

My tea cools, morning grips the sun between
thumb and forefinger like a lemonade corkscrew
Akro Agate Popeye marble shooter. Outside
the windowpane, a wasp, arms and legs akimbo,
cleans her satin-banded body with the same
seductive gesture as a woman smoothing down
a cocktail dress over the swell of her hips.
And I circle around this poem too many times,
awkward even in the inching tarantellas of mollusk
love. But soon, soon I will find the words
that pierce clean through, and soon I will find
their centerlike a slice of silver splitting
the air in a smoke-filled room. For the mean-
time, though, did you know, my love,
that a flock of larks is called an exaltation?

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