Archive for February, 2007


How to explain what it’s like here if you haven’t been here before: It’s like crashing a wedding reception where you don’t know anybody but it doesn’t really seem to matter, someone once said in that typical mixture of bemused bewilderment and delight.

Retired farmers, artists, librarians, professors, upholsterers, businessmen. Sometimes several generations. All crowded into the small back room of the bar. Tin ceiling. Egg and dart molding. Worn wooden floor. Plastic lawn chairs hauled up from the basement when the real chairs run out. Beer nuts and popcorn. Beer, bloody beer, beer with olives, Bloody Marys, Sex on the Beach. Sometimes there’s a birthday celebration, so friends bring in flowers, gifts, snacks, and cake. The cards get passed around. Everyone signs. The band sings happy birthday. Everybody gets to eat cake.

Tunes sliding into a familiar groove over the weeks. The tunes, all old standards, familiar 75’s in nostalgia’s raspy jukebox.

Sometimes an elderly man, an incorrigible flirt in blue overalls, is helped to the stage, where he plays harmonica. (But first he takes out his teeth, wraps them in a hanky, and slips them into his front bib pocket. Or do I inadvertently make this last part up?)

Every week the King of South Dakota sings a few songs. (Why is the King of South Dakota the King of South Dakota? I used to ask everyone obsessively, on a Brenda Starr-esque quest. But I never came away with a straight answer, even after consulting at length with the Queen.)

Keep your sunny side up, up!
Hide the side that gets blue.
If you have nine sons in a row,
Baseball teams make money, you know!

Every week, Pat, a silver-haired woman with the body of a twenty-something, dances to “Sunny Side Up.” With a wide grin, she bends over and moons the audience each time the chorus rolls around, giving her blue-jeaned bottom a playful slap for good measure. (Sometimes I have to turn to one of my friends and say, Seriously. I don’t think I could make this shit up if I tried.)

Keep your funny side up, up!
Let your laughter come thru, do!
Stand upon your legs, be like two fried eggs,
Keep your sunny side up!

Every week W. makes me tell him how old I am. (W. is trying to find a bride for his son in Alaska.) Every week I have to tell W. that I’m way too old for his son. How old? he insists. I finally tell him how old. She’s way too old! he blurts out to the entire table. Then adds, as if to placate me, But for your age, you look seventeen. (So is seventeen for my age the new thirty?)

The guitarist wears a black eye patch. He plays a mean guitar. He sings gravel style, like Satchmo.

There is no other way to say this. The fiddler is a Fiddle God: Brisk rosiny crunch of double-stopped passages opening up into a hot electric sear of melody. (After another impossible tour-de-force of a solo, the entire crowd makes O’s with their arms over their heads, sighing, Owen !)

Neon burning brighter as the night sets in. Afterwards, bundling into coats and hats and scarves and gloves, stepping into wind chill, falling barometer, an entire weekend filled with the insistent, incessant filibuster of snow until music’s a muffled memory and everything is calm and quiet, dollopped with several heavy feet of white like whipped cream from a can, or the stiff sugary frosting that comes on cakes from grocery store bakeries.

But still, a residual lingering, like a whisper of metal brush against the snare drum, like the echo of jukebox in an empty dark bar after everyone’s gone home for the night and all the streetlights switch to a backbeat pulse of flashing yellow:

Take good care of yourself . . .

Under the boardwalk, down by the sea . . .

Come a little bit closer . . .

Read Full Post »


Wherein I finally acquiesce to the posting of photos using the new Blogger system.

Insert clever photo caption consisting of witty badinage here as you see fit. (Or saucy . . . saucy badinage is always good, too.)

Um. There’s a kitten. In my sink.

This kitten may look cute, but in case you’re wondering, should I die alone in my apartment here in the wilds of South Dakota, let me tell you, this kitten will be the first to eat my fucking face off in a very chompy-hungry Donner Party-esque sort of way.

Read Full Post »

Last night: I drive to the Catholic College 20 minutes down the road and pretend to be my Author-Function.

(And isn’t that really the tricky thing about readings? That one must somehow figure out how (without being too glib about it . . . unless, of course, glibness is one of the perceived or desirable functions of one’s Author-Function, I suppose) to embody and perform one’s own Author-Function? Or, at the very least, how to reconcile one’s physical self with the rather spectral abstract that is one’s Author-Function in such a way that doesn’t come across as sheer psychosis? Or maybe what I’m really confessing is that I’m confused about whether it was really me or my Author-Function that would just as soon have skipped the reading and hung out at the restaurant after the pre-reading dinner, drinking a debaucherous amount of Hurricanes, and dancing with wild abandon all night to the Mardi Gras blues band?)

The nuns will come, I am told over dinner. The Sisters have a Sister Thing going on tonight, but they’re probably going to sneak out of their Sister Thing and come to the reading instead. Suddenly, I love these nuns, these sneaking out of their Sister Thing sisters, and I (or is it my Author-Function?) experience a slight wave of performance anxiety. Suddenly, I even feel a little bit penitent about having threatened, earlier, to one of my friends, to gratuitously read only poems containing sex, absinthe drinking, and masturbation — preferably in tandem.

(So, okay, it’s true, I confess . . . I have a little thing for nuns. No, I’m not saying it’s right, and yes, I’m a complete degenerate. While we’re at it, I have a thing for cops, mail carriers, roller derby queens, superheroes, and debauchable milkmaids. (Particularly debauchable milkmaids. So yeah . . . just call me Angel Clare.) S. says it must be a Uniform Fetish. And there you have it . . . put on a costume for me and I’ll take you down. Just like that.)

Please forgive me.

Which makes better eating? someone asks. A garfish or a paddlefish? Can you even eat a garfish? I heard you have to use tin snips to take off the scales. Both, we are all assured, are very good to eat. The garfish has two strips of filet mignon down either side of the spine that are very tasty, and the secret to the paddlefish is to peel off a mysterious layer of red. They’re just delicious. Well, they’re both prehistoric, says the poet from Nebraska and we all nod wisely, because what could be more delicious than fish that swam with the dinosaurs? I confess, I’m becoming intrigued. What kind of bait do you use? I ask. Small children, says the Cowboy Poet without missing a beat.

The Red Hat Society ladies sweep into the restaurant. I can, at least, say that the costume thing doesn’t seem to hold true in this particular instance and I profess that I have never, at any time, had an overwhelming urge (at least thus far) to debauch a Red Hat Society lady.

When it comes to you, on the other hand . . . ?

Mea culpa.

Read Full Post »

Late-night drive home from the airport last night after five days away. Too unsettled to sleep at first, despite consecutive nights of fitful half-rest, so when I finally lost consciousness around 4:00 a.m., pinioned down by the heavy muscular wedges of lightly snoring cats, I fell into a stunned oblivion. Without obligation. Without wants.

All day long I fretted and obsessed over the too-many things I needed to get done and the too-little progress being made.

All day long should played an intricately deliberate and drawn-out game of chess with want.

Finally, late in the afternoon, I walked down to the river. Maybe I wanted to see if I could find something like my own reflection there. Or maybe I thought I might find you among the bare and feral trees, the laughing too-blue sky instead?

Heavy ambered wedges of sunlight honeycombing down through the trees like dripping trickles of honey, snow dissolving like sugar in hot tea. I melt like a candy lozenge aching behind the teeth.

I am hungry for sweetness: chewy cranberries, honey-roasted slivers of almond in the salad. Sticky dates smeared in mascarpone to sweeten my tongue. I will be a sweet-talker. A honey-tongued devil.

Haven’t you missed me?

You, of course (it hardly goes without saying) are always missed . . . even when you haven’t gone anywhere.

Read Full Post »

Today I pull myself back a little bit from that vortex, that sweet spinning, dangerous as song, whirling like flurried bursts of snow inside my head.

daylight licked me into shape

Instead, I let everything settle, like a quiet snow globe, outside matching inside, tricky conversions of weather set aside for the meteorologists to ponder. I make lists to keep from dancing myself dizzy, I swim through an avalanche of e-mail–breast-stroking up toward the promise of sunlight, I make tiny sharp checkmarks, and write sobering unspun words such as: exemplary, interdisciplinarity, rigorous and evaluative. Words with pinch, like clothespins, to grip noisy white flapping sheets in place and keep them from cycloning off into the wind and sun and snow.

strange as angels

This weekend I took a photograph of the photographer taking photographs of the crowd at the bar, in which I was one of the people being photographed, which means that perhaps the photographer has a photograph of me taking a photograph of him taking photographs.

why are you so far away?

Another flurried burst of snow, like a smattering of goosedown shaken loose. Light too bright. Strong coffee. Stop spinning. Wake up, wake up, wake up . . .

Read Full Post »

Thirty-one degrees below zero with wind chill early yesterday morning. Step outside: Flash-frozen like winter produce. Freeze-rayed into dry ice by a nefarious villain wielding exceedingly bad dialogue. Frostbite. Burnt to the quick. Freezer burn.

So cold I can barely breathe.

At the afternoon faculty meeting, a Power Point presentation on travel reimbursement. The faculty member sitting next to me, a published colleague, late fifties, doodles on his meeting agenda. When I discreetly glance over at his page, I see he’s written: Borrr-ing . . . After the Power Point slides, a summary pop quiz: What do you need to do when you have more than one person staying in your hotel room?

After a moment of nonplussed silence, the room erupts in breathless, giddy laughter.

Just a few weeks before, my Jeep spinning out on the ice late at night like a silly red toy top, something unraveling, quick flick of unwound string, my surprised breath escaping my body in extravagant clouds and wisps. Since then, I’ve been a little bit unsure about whether or not I’m still being spun, whether or not these hidden mists and vapors of my breath have actually been returned to me, or have wandered off to chase their own illicit dragons, haunt their own obsessions.

Catch my breath. It’s lost.

A statistician explains how to interpret our student evaluations: Aggregate, Disaggregate, Raw Frequencies. There’s noise in the response, he tells us. (How could there not be? Static. Hum. Subtext. The noise is the part I listen to most closely. Back to Thelonious again, all breath and hum and moan beneath the tracks.)

Turn around. Look for that smile to make everything thaw just a tiny bit around the edges.

Held breath.

Read Full Post »