WE HAVE TO BEGIN SOMEWHERE

In picking up on the ending of my first published novel as the starting point for my most recent work, 50 years later, I’m given a foundation to build on. There’s a set of central characters (five siblings plus our hippie-boy) within existing situations (the tragic car crash, the restaurant, the campus). Can you also see this as presenting a larger puzzle to work out? How many more pieces will be required? Just how big will it be? Will it really fit on our table?

There’s also a backstory, one that can’t be ignored even when the new book is expected to stand on its own rather than as a sequel. In this case, a backstory with parts I feel need to be downplayed or softened. After all, some of it’s downright embarrassing! Go take a trip with Subway Hitchhikers if you want to know why.

Still, one thing that pleases me with my new novel is how much of that past recedes into the background. This is the daughter’s struggle, after all, years later. What’s Left is ultimately about what’s happening with her as she relates it, even when she’s looking at old photographs or asking questions. Here she makes her debut as an 11-year-old when her father vanishes and moves forward.

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AWAY FOR THE HOLIDAYS

With Christmas break, they were soon pulled apart. Call me, write me, we’ll be back together in no time. In an unbearably long anticipation.

In the next-door apartment, a sadist beat the tar out of a wailing baby: “Louder, you miserable bastard, I want to hear it hurt!” Like dropping a cat down the sewer. In those days, you didn’t call the police or social workers.

Some things shift for the better. In Aunt Berthanna’s hallway, purple vase hoarded who knew what mementos.

Ah! Home! A refrigerator filled with plastic. The disordering of her “DORN!” or worse yet, “DORN LUCAS!” yelled up that stairwell had conditioned him to cringe even when someone cried out his surname “MACKENZIE! DORN MACKENZIE!” in a cranky mothers’ tone. If it’s so almighty important, let her come to him. She demanded he interrupt his schoolwork, the term papers and final exams due immediately on his return to campus, dash downstairs, listen to her complaint, then run to the basement for a can of string beans or to the attic for an empty hat box. He saw how she’d rather watch soap operas than her own life or chat away precious hours with self-defeating apologies, while ignoring answers square before herself. He and his contemporaries were determined not to become like their parents. Never!

Fortunately, there was mail, for this was a time when long-distance phoning was prohibitively expensive for anything but the shortest conversations. The kid and Pepper’s imaginations took flight, unhindered by vocal tone, twitches, or embarrassing pauses. Sometimes they even achieved acrobatics of phrasing and mental doodling normal speech foreclosed. Had they been able to keep our relationship at this epistolary level, all might have remained, well, nearly divine. Of course, most people require their saints to come with flesh attached. The kid missed his Pepper and her endless supply of kisses. Nothing was more real than that.

~*~

For more from my THIRD RAIL collection, click here.

ALL PART OF THE MYSTERY

She was about to sweep away shards remaining from his high school crackup – more precisely, his breaking up over romance in his senior year. Ever since, his heart and skull had continued warring, sometimes erupting feverishly into a death mask mirrored in his own hands. Despite later dates and embraces, the artistic and social projects he retreated to whenever that suffocating midnight grip loosened, the self-therapy of hunchbacked miles along thunderstorm’d sidewalks, the scalding showers, exhausted jogging, throbbing woofers and shrill tweeters, hours of dreamless sleep – the kid had never fully eluded that gigantic amoeba. Disconcertingly, in trying to withdraw, he rolled back to his own deficiencies time and time again. The most painful message in all this, perhaps, was that he could not conquer everything he set out to accomplish; many things would remain beyond his range or his abilities.

In that brief, disastrous infatuation he had sought validation. Having a beautiful, charming, intelligent girlfriend would be a sign of completeness, of fulfillment. He believed that something in the mystery of woman spelled salvation, which is, of course, a terrible weight to place upon anyone. How could he burden his beloved with his own suffering? Any American boy who isn’t an athlete is handicapped – especially in the nation’s heartland. He wasn’t sturdy enough for football or even basketball, swift enough for track or cross-country, forceful enough for baseball, at least for the success he demanded of himself. He knew these activities weren’t “play,” despite usage, and believed only victory would compensate pain and exertion. His strengths and speed lay elsewhere.

But he remained loyal to people and institutions. Adolescent birds leave nests and stake out new territory. He yearned for loving, a special acceptance.

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POETRY SPRINGING FROM WITHIN ITSELF

Here’s a section from a collection of contemporary American sonnets I’ve done along the lines of those by the late and wonderful Ted Berrigan. It’s one of 60 from Braided Double-Cross.

~*~

As I said at the time …

In defining poetry, Berrigan’s concept of a windup toy serves well for me. How basic can I make it? (A single word? Maybe two?) As well as how extended or elaborate!

I still don’t like poetry that’s written as code, an intellectual equation of meaning.

Also, I prefer lines that are long enough to have something happen within each one.

I love when literature (or any art, for that matter) opens as a state of awareness – or fullest existence – which also expands into epiphanies of dancing or singing or perhaps, well, just imagine. Think twice about the chemically aided experiences – pinot, martini, pot? Yes, the Zone, when it graces. In a continuum, with differing specifics.

A set of skills and disciplined thought and, I would hope, tradition / culture. Not that every time I read a book or sit to write I’m there. Indeed, there may be good reasons we cannot dwell long in that Zone (Is it too isolated? Too exclusionary? Self-centered even when we find it occurring in Otherness?) …

A break, then. And then back to work.

~*~

CROSSING XXXVI

A green-streaked sentry flanked by thistles
on every town common is more explicit
than any boom box. Please, my darling, please
don’t let carnal memories expire between us.

I set forth at a disadvantage.
Ribbons of baby oil. Snaking Chinese dragons.
One flesh, lagoons. Trembling like the wind
in shrubs and flowers. You chained

criticism on my Academy of St. Martin
in the wallpaper, provoking blatant spice factory
peppers and cinnamon misrepresentations
of common logic, as if you were running for office.

Without proper camouflage, there’s nothing to repulse
destitution overtaking military-issue fortifications.

Poem copyright by Jnana Hodson
(originally appeared in the journal Plungelit)
For more, click here.

Poetry
Poetry

CECILIA AND NADINE

bright brown irises maybe a little too wide-eyed (available) hair golden heartbreak. still Duquesne University and Uniontown, Pennsylvania, were places he’d been, he told her requesting the next dance there’s more than lightness afoot driving these distances. Attraction, see, flashes into conflict “Quakers. They believe in Jesus, don’t they?” is how she starts revealing she’s […]

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

IN THE OVERLAPPING KNOTS

What the heart hears and sees may be quite different from what the mind observes and records, much less decides. These may be considered two strands in a braid, into which a third is woven. As for the third? It may be the beloved Other or some Unknown factor or even the undisclosed Rival. Each possibility leads to some distinct  tension in the series of overlapping knots.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross move through sexual attraction and passion into obsession, rejection, even betrayal. In the heated accusations and arguments between lovers, the dialogue – reaching into childhood, history, geography, career aspirations, and the future – invokes an absent, silent third participant, a recognition of the inequality emerging in the core relationship itself. Details of confession mount quietly. Truth becomes unbearable. At times a scream is silent. The braid ultimately becomes a whip. As Diane Wakoski has observed, “Rapunzel and the witch were always one / and the same.”

It’s what Ted Berrigan, in the American sonnets this set emulates, called belly-to-belly white heat.

~*~

Braided Double-Cross
Braided Double-Cross

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.