Friday, September 30, 2011

Nymphomagic Electroshock

The ice cracks and weeps
black running veins in the road
and it’s warmer, sure,
but this is the worst
time in Alaska

the melt-off will take
weeks, maybe
until the end of
May to clear out
from the yard and

October’s dogshit emerges
from the gray stink of
April meltwater and damned
if it isn’t just dirty-ugly, the
dirty ice, dirty snow
and what grass that
shows is as

brown as the
dogshit not one of these
stupid moose-humpers feels
obliged to pick up
when they walk their

and it was at this time of
year called “Breakup” (no shit) that
I was feeling every second of my
41 years walking out to
get the mail and

I looked
the street and
there was this
blonde child
of about
18 or so

her blonde hair
flowing over
the collar of her
puffy blue jacket like
molten life everlasting

when saw me 

seeing her she
waved and
smiled so large
her teeth 
smiled with her

most unnerving
of all was
the creeping

she meant it.

Throughout the
long breakup season
I treasured her
starshine slap
letting it

sustain me though a
fitful drowse of summer
and the sad breakaway from
Alaska that happened that

Fall, when I drove
my family across Alaska
into Canada, through forest
and city and canyon and

settled for a while across
the sound from Seattle, among
some of the most hideous and
warped humanoids I ever

saw in a climate that
was too bleak to be

It was two months longer
than the longest year before the
Navy ordered us cross-
country to Virginia.

It was in Sioux Falls, South
Dakota, a frozen gray fogbound
sinus of a morning after a day of
winding around the Black Hills and

Mount Rushmore and a sunset chase on
the prairie with my wife and children by
the rest stop before the long straight
deadly dull night drive into a
cigarette-stenched hotel room

We were so glad to be out
of our smelly hotel room for a
free waffle breakfast even though
it looked as if we’d have to fit

ourselves in among a girl’s
high school basketball team on
their way to play a game in

a long way south but
that’s what they do here.

No, this wasn’t at all like
the last time, this time the
smile-blast was buckshot with
meaning as I

motioned her to
go on ahead of me to
the waffle iron and
up went the corners

of an otherwise
undistinguished mouth
and I stood 

dazzled, as she
told me without
speaking “It’s all
right, Daddy, I’m still
waking up but for
this I love you so
very much and
so I grant you

“while denying the
vampiric old
slug within you
which would like 
nothing more than 
to rub its soft naked 
decay against my taut 
springtime warmth for 
the sake of affirming 
its value as something
which somehow hasn’t 
died yet, instead

“I affirm and
celebrate the
innocence you so
mistakenly mourn for
gone in everyone, 
especially older teenage 
girls like me and even
(believe it!) yourself.”

and with the
revealing light of
her smile, a wild
fresh wind
blowing, as
the Great
so aptly put it,
breathing life
into so many things
I didn’t know
still breathed
though now I

wonder, did I
have to go all
the way to Alaska and
South Dakota to
experience this or was
it just a matter of
being such a
cranky old Daddy in
form, appearance and
(sometimes) function that
these rare Girls
couldn’t help but

I never knew such
guileless and sweet-for
sweet’s sake Girls growing
up in South Carolina, they

were as much out for
something as I was,
circling predators competing
for the biggest chunks of meat
from one another

and I presumed that
was the way it was

from Mobile to
New York City I saw
nothing so much as
to suggest an

so I count myself
lucky for being
where I was and
for what I have

even if I sometimes 

think that the good 
things that keep you 
going are sometimes 
the worst

enabling more
useless struggle against
a decidedly unpleasant
inevitable, still

years after that
first smile among the
rotting ice and  
thawing turds and

thousands of
miles removed from
the basketball
player standing

out amongst her
blandly chattering
teammates with a
singular flex of

I still get a
lift from these
visions and (oh
hell yes) I

live for the
of one

maybe from the
pretty young
nurse as I lie

right before
the final

I could die
richer than

From the forthcoming collection Nymphomagic Electroshock and Other Middle-Aged Complaints.
Copyright © 2004, 2017 by Lawrence Roy Aiken.

Monday, September 05, 2011

The Toughest Writers Against the Toughest Holiday

There are things even the bravest and best among us will not face. 

I don’t care how tough you are.

It’s big enough to hurt you.

He had a soft spot for cats, so there’s that.
Consider Charles Bukowski. The last of the Great American poets along the lines, if not the precise subject matter, of Robinson Jeffers and James Dickey, Bukowski is probably best known today for writing the loosely autobiographical 1987 movie Barfly. Among his vast body of work—thousands of pages of poems, stories and essays—Bukowski wrote about his Depression-era childhood and his abusive father. He wrote about discovering alcohol and the city library as avenues of physical and psychic escape. By way of describing the complete experience of Life As It Is Lived, Bukowski made passing mentions of his bowel movements and how he would invariably vomit before reading his poetry before audiences.

The one subject he avoided was Christmas.

Bukowski recalled his father beating him with a razor strop in the bathroom doorway. He spoke of being chased over fences by bullies. He wrote of the rains that kept everyone indoors for days at a time in the spring.

Never once does Bukowski recall a boy’s happy anticipation built from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.

Amid Bukowski’s many thousands of pages you will find one of two passing complaints about the “forced jollity” of Christmas. Bukowski devoted all of one poem to an adult memory of writing with the radio on during Christmas Eve, the sound of an ambulance signifying how life’s usual tragedies didn’t stop for O Holy Night. There are a couple of other adult memories that show up in his novel Women.

Growing up poor and abused, this is just another party you
weren’t invited to.
Yet for all of Bukowski’s memories of childhood—from appetite-killing family dinners to his father’s gratuitous alpha-dog violence against him and his mother, from having the severe acne on his teenage face drilled to the poverty he saw warping the families of other children he knew in 1930s Los Angeles—never once does Bukowski recall opening presents on Christmas morning. As unflinching as Bukowski was in describing the most hateful and cringe-inducing scenes he’d endured throughout his life, he wasn’t going anywhere near those memories.

No Red Ryder BB guns for Charles Bukowski.

For that matter, no Christmas sweaters for Hemingway. His mother was stone crazy and one can imagine what A Very Hemingway Christmas with her was like. Imagine is all you can do, because among Hemingway’s thousands of pages, encompassing locales from Spain to Africa, from Italy to Cuba, I cannot recall once reading a description of a Hemingway character participating in a Christmas scene.

There are more Great American Cat People Writers than there
are those who spare any space at all for Christmas.
Of course, he might just have found the whole thing beneath him. Unmanly, even, the domain of children not old enough to drink liquor for breakfast and fish for trout. Certainly not for men who speak abruptly with their women and think often about the war.

I’m only speculating, of course. Honestly, it’s not like I expect everyone to burst out singing “Joy to the World” or anything like that.

My contention is that Christmas season involves one full month, maybe more, depending upon how Thanksgiving lines up in November. It is the major touchstone for the entire year, the penultimate celebration before New Year’s Eve and the start of New Things. You can’t sleep through it and pretend it isn’t happening. Christmas commands everyone’s attention—except America’s best writers. Even the British seemed to give up on it after Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

Of course, there are the complainers. They can be fun to read, and why not? The best of them recognize the same things we do: the syrupy-sticky-awful music running ad nauseam in the stores immediately after Halloween, the crass commercialism, etc.

There’s a lot to hate about Christmas the way it is prosecuted in these United States. The shameless buy-something-because-fourth-quarter-earnings-drive-the-economy message we get from our “news” media, for one. I’m not arguing any of that.

In regards to Bukowski and others whose childhoods are something best put behind them, I also understand how Christmas is ruined for some people. I’m just saying there’s no reason to throw Christmas out with the filthy bathwater of our pasts.

I say these things as someone who has had Christmas ruined for him at age seventeen, who wasted the seasons throughout his 20s with nothing more than a bottle of gin and a bud of weed to get him through, I can bear witness: Christmas cleans up real nice once you decide you’re tired of getting beaten up by it.

This is not surrender. This is you declaring a different level of engagement. One that requires another kind of fight from you.

There is no better answer for a bad childhood, or against the hateful sham our Mammon-worshipping culture has made of the season than to create a Christmas that is good and true. A Christmas that reflects who we are and what we aspire to do. Or should aspire to do, assuming aspiration itself isn’t as dead for you as Christmas.

If it is, that’s okay. It’s all part of the package. A gift bigger than any box, yet accessible to all who are open to receive it.
Build your own Christmas. Let the right ghosts in.