Dobyns & Dogs

(thanks to Rick Bursky for sending this one to me)

How To Like It

by Stephen Dobyns

These are the first days of fall. The wind

at evening smells of roads still to be traveled,

while the sound of leaves blowing across the lawns

is like an unsettled feeling in the blood,

the desire to get in a car and just keep driving.

A man and a dog descend their front steps.

The dog says, Let’s go downtown and get crazy drunk.

Let’s tip over all the trash cans we can find.

This is how dogs deal with the prospect of change.

But in his sense of the season, the man is struck

by the oppressiveness of his past, how his memories

which were shifting and fluid have grown more solid

until it seems he can see remembered faces

caught up among the dark places in the trees.

The dog says, Let’s pick up some girls and just

rip off their clothes. Let’s dig holes everywhere.

Above his house, the man notices wisps of cloud

crossing the face of the moon. Like in a movie,

he says to himself, a movie about a person

leaving on a journey. He looks down the street

to the hills outside of town and finds the cut

where the road heads north. He thinks of driving

on that road and the dusty smell of the car

heater, which hasn’t been used since last winter.

The dog says, Let’s go down to the diner and sniff

people’s legs. Let’s stuff ourselves on burgers.

In the man’s mind, the road is empty and dark.

Pine trees press down to the edge of the shoulder,

where the eyes of animals, fixed in his headlights,

shine like small cautions against the night.

Sometimes a passing truck makes his whole car shake.

The dog says, Let’s go to sleep. Let’s lie down

by the fire and put our tails over our noses.

But the man wants to drive all night, crossing

one state line after another, and never stop

until the sun creeps into his rearview mirror.

Then he’ll pull over and rest awhile before

starting again, and at dusk he’ll crest a hill

and there, filling a valley, will be the lights

of a city entirely new to him.

But the dog says, Let’s just go back inside.

Let’s not do anything tonight. So they

walk back up the sidewalk to the front steps.

How is it possible to want so many things

and still want nothing. The man wants to sleep

and wants to hit his head again and again

against a wall. Why is it all so difficult?

But the dog says, Let’s go make a sandwich.

Let’s make the tallest sandwich anyone’s ever seen.

And that’s what they do and that’s where the man’s

wife finds him, staring into the refrigerator

as if into the place where the answers are kept-

the ones telling why you get up in the morning

and how it is possible to sleep at night,

answers to what comes next and how to like it.

From VELOCITIES: NEW & SELECTED POEMS (Penguin, 1994)

David Mitchell on James Wright & Monkey Brains

This is a really important piece on being present as a writer, and as a person, via James Wright’s meditative poem, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.” 

“We have a hard time remaining in the present: Our monkey minds are continually jumping through the jungles of the past and the forests of the future. But Wright’s poem says: Stop! Just stop. Calm down, be quiet, and look around. It’s an homage to, and an exhortation of, the act of seeing.”

Funny, yesterday I just established a ritual in which, before I sit down to write, I lie down on the bed and “check in” with my body, notice what’s going on, and ask my body and mind to work together. I wonder what would happen if we all took 10 minutes a couple times a day to do that…

Nervous Breakdown

I haven’t blogged for about a month now. I can only describe what I’ve been going through as a nervous breakdown. You don’t hear the term nervous breakdown that often anymore. It’s not clinical enough, specific enough, as a diagnosis. It’s not actually a diagnosis at all. We don’t have a pill to throw at nervous breakdown, though there are plenty to alleviate its symptoms. It’s a pretty taboo term in our culture, particularly as a phenomenon that nobody can quite put their finger on.  The term feels very 19th century somehow, or maybe it’s a 1950s term? I will have to research its history, but it wreaks of weakness, fainting, smelling salts, spas with healing baths where you go to recuperate. Still, I’m calling what I’ve been experiencing for the last, oh, six months a nervous breakdown. Continue reading

The Wild Heart

photo 1

beach find

 So, there are things to work out, yeah? We all have things to work out. Deaths, breakups, awful traumas, stints of depression and anxiety. Here we are, friends, swimming in murky water. Here we are dancing. This morning I woke up and walked on the beach with the great blue herons and the red-beaked white ibises. I swam in perfectly clear, calm ocean. That’s one way to wake up. I’ve been writing a little. Looks like I have a new manuscript of poems on the horizon. In addition to actually readable poems, I had this batch of maybe 30 poems that I never wanted to see again. I printed them out and started culling lines from them. I took the first line or so from each and made a poem. Then I took the next line or so from each, another poem. Then I took random lines from each, a third poem. Three poems into this process, I remembered why I love to write poems: chance & mystery!

photo

my roof

I had a really bad day on Friday. I’m talking full-on anxiety attack. Couldn’t drive, couldn’t think straight, cried a lot. And then I got through it, with the help of some dear friends. I woke up the next day a little better, but still panicky. I slept through the night, and woke up the next day a little better. Better enough to write poems again. This is important. You remember who you are when all the detritus has been stripped from you, but it sure is effing painful to be stripped down.

The epigraph of Clarice Lispector’s novel Near to the Wild Heart is a quote from James Joyce. It reads:

He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.

On Loneliness

I’m at a beautiful artists retreat. I look out my window at the ocean. I walk the beach. I work on poems and try my hand at writing short stories. I read Alice Munro stories. I do some editing work. I talk to friends online. My phone feels like a lifeline. Friends will visit. My mom and grandma and cat are nearby. There is one other artist here, and I hope we’ll crack open a bottle of wine together soon.

But mostly I’m alone.

Being lonely is different than heartbreak, but they’re inextricably linked. Continue reading

An aside

Just an aside: if you review books, you could still review Dust Jacket. It’s a book of prose poems. I will send a copy to any takers…

 

Ugh. More Confessions from the Broken-Hearted

1.

Tonight I had make a stand of sorts. I had to stop hoping for reconciliation with Ben. In the process (maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done or will need to continue to do), I had to stand in the mirror and say, Who are you, and what the hell have you been doing?

Part of this is trying to understand what it means to be a drifter. My dictionary tells me a drifter is a person who is continually moving from place to place, without any fixed home or job. Apparently, it’s also a fishing boat equipped with a drift net. I could construct countless metaphors on that front. Synonyms are wanderer, traveler, transient, roamer, itinerant, tramp, vagabond, vagrant, hobo, bum.

I guess being stranded by my love/partner, without home or job, without any plan, has left things pretty effing raw. Continue reading