11/23/2017

My house is full of people. Not everyone is here yet, and not everyone will make it, but it’s still full of people—sleeping in on a cold Thanksgiving morning. My house is grandmother’s house—the horse knows the way—how could it be any better.

This morning Michelle posts the things she’s grateful for, and among them her family of poets, artist, and friends. I have those too.

I have sweet potatoes to skin, a pre cooked turkey to warm, have already made pear cobbler using the pears from my tree. The girls are making everything else. I get on the scales this morning and realize I’ve already gained ten pounds in anticipation. I sigh.

Coffee is brewing.  I take a breath.

My cousin’s daughter is worse than thought. I’m very close to losing her, my cousin writes me. I know you and Bruce understand. We do, I write her back. I whisper a prayer. Do you believe in prayers. I pray, he answers. But do you believe the narrative changes—Once, he says. Only once. But once carries a certain weight.

I sip my coffee and worry over the world. I look out my window and watch the sun creating the morning. All this goes on, the poet whispers. At least for awhile, a billion years or so.  Knowing the sun will rise tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow is enough for now. I pour my coffee.

I look at a photograph on our dining room wall, the first thanksgiving family photograph we took thirty four years ago.  Grandmother’s house was my mother’s house then. Two of my children were yet to be born—two of my nieces, but the rest of the clan was there. Since then we pose every thanksgiving, the cast of characters continually changing. Five in the original cast have died.  The photographs are no longer about my mother’s family with my siblings, nieces, and nephews, but more about mine. Since the original picture I have gained two more daughters, three son-in-laws, another boyfriend who might become one, four grandchildren—the fat Buddha reminds me that all life is change. I float with it.

I sip my coffee. I want to tell you how much I love you, how I remember as much as I can—not to hold onto some kind of past, but just to dance in the music of it. Each moment a gift, even if my feet hurt. 

Do you believe in God, the angel whispers in my ear. Yes, but I don’t know what that means. Still, I pray—sometimes not so softly or compliantly. Couldn’t you do any better than this, I have been known to complain—when ugly seems to have the upper hand in everything. When goons seem to have sway. When good people suffer and die. When I have to listen to preachers say we are all sinners who deserve hell. No we don’t, I yell. We don’t deserve hell. We were made to be who we are—

 But then I take a breath and look at the sunrise. Listen to the birds. Sip my coffee. And realize I wouldn’t really change all this. I love this gift of breath. I love you. I am the happiest man alive, stealing the line from Miller.

Love,

Brady

11/22/2017

I am sitting in typing class, fourth period after lunch. The principal comes on the loudspeaker telling us the president has been shot. Then a few moments later, puts the radio feed on the PA system. The president is dead—teachers stop what they’re doing. We sit at our desks, soaking in what has just happened.

“I want you to know, I still blame Texas for Kennedy’s death,” a professor at a university in Eastern Washington tells me. I’m there for an interview. I don’t get the job. This is twenty years after the afternoon in the typing class.

We go from class to class for the rest of the day, but nothing happens. Teachers leave the classrooms to console each other. We just sit at our desks in a kind of numb awareness that history lives outside the pages of a book. One teacher breaks down and cries. After school, we go to play practice, but no one feels like rehearsing, so we sit around for awhile, then leave.

That night we sit in the front seat of a ’62 Chevy watching some movie at a drive in. We kiss as if kissing would glue the world in place. Twenty days earlier, Diem is assassinated in Saigon with a wink and a nod. Our civics teacher explains the wink and nod to us. We knew what was going on if we listened. Four years later I am in line outside a galley in Great Lakes wearing blues and a p-coat. The wind blows in from Lake Michigan. Country Joe and the Fish are singing the marching song.

Come on all you big strong men. Uncle Sam need your help again.

At times it seems we are in a reality TV video stuck in a repeating loop. We talk without a script, but since the dialogue never really changes, there is no need. We grow old, those of us who are lucky enough, or unlucky enough, and realize that old memories and new memories are the same memories. Though the really good ones, the good lines and moments, the time you and I made love in the bushes at a local park on a Saturday afternoon, are cut out and left with the other cut tape (though everything now is digital) on the floor because someone might be made to feel uncomfortable.  And somewhere in the equation, he wakes up at night remembering a lost scene from over a hundred years ago. They descend on a village at day break, wearing long coats and riding down on those still asleep. He wakes and realizes he was there, even though it was eighty years or more before he was born, that memory is etched in the molecules of air and what we remember when awake is selected by the guardians.  But in dreams we break through sometimes.

In dreams, you kiss me and I taste your breath. In dreams, I can still run. In dreams…

The king is dead, long live the king—

Some of my happiest memories, he explains—the smell of burning leaves, a school house sitting on top of a hill, everything in shades of brown, my grandfather telling stories of dogs and bears, somehow the stories of dogs and bears making us feel safe. How to explain, he whispers.

Love,

Brady

11/21/2017

I read where two hours of silence every day helps the brain, that it’s better to study in silence than with music playing, especially music with lyrics. I sit at my desk without music and listen to the morning traffic rumbling past my house. Does this count as silence, he wonders.

There was a time when the road was quiet, but that was years ago. I retreat into Joni Mitchell singing “Woodstock.” Came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road… There is the constant dialogue going on inside my head, this talking to myself or to imagined people. I lose myself in writing my publisher about deadlines for blurbs and come back to the music four songs later. I return to Joni.

Watched a later interview with Joni who seemed a little worn with the world. Her voice raspy, signs of years smoking.  Mark writes me several times about how Joni never seemed to find the love she was seeking—that one true forever love.

I sip my coffee.  Take a breath.  I find myself playing with the words—Forever is now, the poet whispers to himself, though he is never all that sure about now. The music turns to The Beatles singing “In My Life.” There are places, I remember… I sang that song to Melinda when she died, my voice working hard not to break. I’ve written this before and will no doubt tell you again and again. It’s a song that defines a world for me. When Melinda was two, and I was trying write the great American novel while taking care of her, the song was the recurring theme, the recurring song in my head. All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall. Forever is now, the poet says again, having no real handle on what it means.

We lived in a Houston apartment, and I would play hide and seek with my daughter. Daddy, where are you, she says. I’m hiding in the pantry. She’s right outside the door. I’m in the shower, I call out. She runs to the shower to find me. And when she ran straight to the shower instead of opening the pantry door, when she listened to my words instead of her own senses, I suddenly realized the heavy responsibility I carried, this having brought a new life into the world.

We lived in Houston and I wrote at a portable typewriter, click, click, click. I walked Melinda to a park with the blue swings. In the evenings I practiced karate at a local gym. Muncher smashes my nose, and I bleed all over my white gi.  Are you okay, my instructor asks. Yes. No you’re not. Some are dead, and some are living, but in my life…

Today, my brother turns seventy. Four years ago, his doctor told him to get his affairs in order as he had advanced prostate cancer. Last month he broke his foot. Eleven days ago he busted his head open. But he’s made it to seventy. We look at each other.

Yesterday, was Emily’s birthday. Tomorrow John Kennedy will have been dead for fifty-four years. The day after tomorrow we will eat turkey and all kinds of starches and sugars. I need to buy a turkey, some potatoes, cranberries, stuffing mix, sweet potatoes—I’m already gaining weight. Just the anticipation of the holidays packs on the weight.

Love,

Brady

11/08/2017

I’m in one of my sappy why can’t we just get along moods this morning, why can’t we let go and love each other freely, without the shackles. I take a breath.

There are times when I’m shackled by the fear that I came up short so many times. That I didn’t love Melinda enough, or the even more difficult, didn’t love my father enough. Okay, he whispers to himself. What is enough—

I sip my coffee. I relax into being who I am, someone who perhaps doesn’t love enough, but someone who loves nevertheless. Enough, enough—more than enough, les than enough. You say the word over and over and it begins to sound like gibberish—like any word, as if by repeating it, it loses its already fragile connection with the thing we call reality.

I understand there is always something pecking my ear, wanting my attention, diverting me—convincing me that all this good I want to feel is just a silly shit notion, fluff and cotton candy, no real substance—that failure and death lurk just around the corner, that I am a man naked in a public place, barefoot.  John Lennon walks into a gun outside The Dakota, all that give peace a chance blown away. I am shot, he says. My old preacher friend couldn’t stand my talking about Lennon—squirmed when I talked hippie peace and love nonsense. He loved war movies, loved it when the good guys blew away the bad guys, when the bad guys were grabbed by demons in the movie “Ghosts.” God is a gunslinger. Maybe, sometimes, the poet says. Who am I to limit God.

I sip my coffee. Take a breath. A YouTube guided meditation leads me to the top of the world’s tallest mountain. I am told to take in the sky. But I am barefoot in the snow. Breathe in the clean air, my guide tells me. Never mind the oxygen is hardly enough—there’s the word again. But I came off the mountain feeling more grounded. I am part of the earth, part of the air, part of the galaxy. Stardust, Joni sings, million year old carbon. Imagine the color of your muscles, your bones, your skin—a luminous green for me.  And pain is an off red worm. I remove the worm from my ankle and gaze at it. It transforms into a butterfly and flutters away. Butterflies fluttering from my body. All imagined, all feeling very real.

We are stardust, Joni sings. Melinda dreamed she had turned into a butterfly, floating between Earth and heaven, looking over the people she loved, and took it as a vision, as something she would do. Life is for learning, Joni sings. I believe this.

So what have you learned, the voice pecking at my ear. That I don’t know shit, the poet answers, knowing he is stealing the line from the old Greek. That my toenails have turned gnarly. My hair is thinned to nothing. My muscles—but that the narrative matters. That each story is etched in the molecules of air, that there is a kind of DNA we don’t understand that glues us all together. You know this, the pecking voice says. It mocks. I thought you didn’t know shit. I don’t, the poet grins.

Love,

Brady

11/07/2017

I read a little Ginsberg today—reminded of the much younger than I am would be poet claiming Ginsberg was a waste of time—unless you enjoyed reading about lured homosexual romps in cheap hotels—a complete waste of time. We were in line for barbecue after morning sessions of poetry, most of it terribly bad. The young kid in front of me in line read his poems that morning while I snored somewhere toward the back of the auditorium. I tried my best to stay awake, but the kid wrote poems as if the words had been cut from the pages of popular magazines, thrown in a hat, and then pulled out one at a time and glued onto a page. I actually knew a guy who wrote poetry that way.  It all sucked, but in the writing group we were in, everyone else thought him brilliant. So who is to know or say who or what is a waste of time.

Moloch eats our children still, I wanted to say, but instead offered some witticism by Vonnegut who claimed everyone knew the brightest minds of their generation majored in engineering. I have known a few very smart engineers, I tell no one in particular. But I have also written reports for a few engineers who didn’t know squat. Bat shit dumb, one might say. Meanwhile, García Lorca is doing something seditious down by the watermelon.

If you don’t like Ginsberg, fine. If you don’t like Whitman, fine. If you don’t like Ezra, that’s fine too.

Anne Sexton tries to lure me into some suicidal pact with her—she can be seductively sneaky that way.  Poor John tries to tightrope the rail of a Minnesota bridge.  And Allen goes shopping for images, in his hungry fatigue, in a supermarket in California in 1955. I still lived on the island with its tadpole rains. Wouldn’t get to California until 1956—the year I met Julie, who more or less told everyone in our fifth grade class I was her new boyfriend, and that settled that—though we didn’t talk at school. Allen finds himself chasing Whitman, seeking some direction. Whitman is tending the wounded in a hospital tent in the folds of history.  And Ginsburg changes the way we look at the world and poetry, or at least the few who thought about poetry, the world, tire pressure, and the b-flat tenor sax solos.

Julie died a few years ago in Arizona. In a way the world ended when she died, or the world where I would find her, both of us old, and tell her I remembered her, that I was ten and didn’t know how to talk to a girl—still don’t, I could say, but I’ve learned to bullshit my way through it now, though everyone knows I’m just bullshitting my way through it.

So I’m wasting my time with Ginsberg, sitting with Kerouac on a busted rusty iron pole—Ginsberg who, for whatever his faults, saw Moloch’s America as clearly as anyone before or since.

Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running
          money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast
          is a cannibal dynamo! Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!

 Moloch who is now president, now senator, now judge, news commentator, NFL owner, and who owns a local bike shop. Everywhere, even in the cereal we eat, the Smart Water we drink.

Mock Ginsberg if you must, call him a lousy poet, a waste of time, whatever, but at least he wasn’t whining Prufrock, J. Alfred who measured his life with coffee spoons and descended the stairs worrying over what she might think.  Do I dare, or do I dare. Shit, yes.

Love,

Brady

10/27/2017

Elizabeth Bishop waits in a dentist waiting room in Worcester, Massachusetts while her aunt is in the dentist’s chair behind a closed door. Elizabeth is seven years old, the war was on, February 1918. She is reading a National Geographic magazine. She hears her aunt’s voice cry “oh.” She already knows her aunt is a foolish and timid woman, but is taken by surprise that her aunt’s voice is suddenly hers. She was her foolish aunt for that moment, and they were falling, their eyes glued to the National Geographic. I am seven years old, she tells herself, I am an Elizabeth—but wonders how did she get to be one of the people in that room, on the Earth, in that moment. She is falling off the edge of the earth.

I read “In the Waiting Room” for the twelfth time, the twentieth time, who knows how many times, and each time I fine a new line I didn’t remember being there. I am in the waiting room only it’s 2016 and the woman behind the desk is asking me to rate their office on-line. I can’t, I tell her. Why, she asks. Because you’re playing Fox news at a high volume, and you don’t have any National Geographic magazines on hand, and I am left handed. But still, I am falling off the edge of the earth. The oral surgeon is a strong affable guy who cross trains. He played football for Texas Tech. He yanks my tooth out almost as if he were removing the hook from a caught fish. 

I am seventy-one, not seven, I tell myself this morning while watching the sun rise on a Friday in Central Texas. But the war is still on. It was never really over. Something about this need we have to kill each other. I am not an Elizabeth sitting in the dentist waiting room, nor did I move to Brasil—I prefer the Portuguese spelling after spending six months studying the language in Monterey. Still, I find myself equally confused as to how I am here, one of them.

I am twenty-one sitting in a dentist chair at Presidio. The dentist is pulling my wisdom teeth, one each week. Don’t drink alcohol for forty eight hours he tells me after pulling the last tooth. I am twenty-one that day. Of course I drank.  I split a bottle of chianti with a buddy while dining on the wharf next to downtown Monterey, down the hill, down Franklin street from my barracks.

For years Monterey was a fulcrum for me. In the early mornings, I would sit on the third floor fire escape of my barracks and memorize the curve of the bay as it met the shore line. I would center myself here, at this spot. It was summer, 1967. The war was still on.

This is the most beautiful place in the whole world, I thought. The Pacific Ocean begins and ends here, Brautigan wrote in one of his books. Drake anchored here. Maybe I would come back to live here, I thought, but I knew better. Though I did take a photograph of Barbara posing in from of the Boat Works ten years later.  Did walk the beach at Carmel with Julie and Charley thirty-five years later. Am sitting on the fire escape balcony now in my mind, breathing in every atom.

I had never been more lonely, the poet says.

Love,

Brady

2/28/2017

02/28/2017

 

There are no enemies here. Today no one dies. Two lines from the film Risen which visit me from time to time. I repeat the lines as if they were a mantra, a prayer, a wish.

I sip my coffee. Take a breath. 

Still, the children in Flint, Michigan will suffer the rest of their lives from the lead in their blood. The result of a effort by the state to save money. And now the EPA is slated to be dismantled, part of the deconstruction of the administrative state. But then it can be argued the EPA didn’t protect the Flint children. Moreover, the national focus on Flint has passed. The election is over. 

Someone whispers in my ear, you can’t begin a sentence with “and” and “but.” I take an even deeper breath.

There are no enemies here, the poet says—but it’s a forced point of view at best. The current regime has already identified me as the enemy. Not personally—I am not that important, but the enemy nevertheless. I believe in open borders, in public schools, in environmental protections, in single payer health care, in sharing the wealth a little better than we do, in the separation of church and state, that it is important to speak the truth of a thing. I believe in poetry and dance. I believe greed is evil, and that most people simply aren’t. I believe to live a gilded life in country where children are being poisoned by the water is unforgivable. Though I too live a kind of gilded life.

I believe when a person claims to follow Christ and Ayn Rand, that person is suffering from some kind of cognitive dissonance. You simply can’t do both. Though I understand there are those who make the argument that the teachings of Christ wasn’t the point. It was his death and resurrection offering us salvation, that one can accept salvation and pretty much ignore the commentary about “the least of these.” That to focus on “the least of these” is some kind of communism and that God really intended free market capitalism as the favored mode of business. A survival of the fittest approach. It’s really about winners and losers.

And open borders would let in all kinds of trouble. And sharing the wealth would only encourage sloth. But then I have been designated as the enemy.

I am out of coffee and wonder if I should switch to a detox tea instead.

I need to stretch. I need to spend less time sitting at my computer. I need to paint one of my rental properties. I need to be more deliberate in my eating. I take another breath. I need, I need, I need…

My brother tells me this long term process of dying he is going through isn’t all that fun. We walk the neighborhood. It’s muggy todayI know, I say. Though one might argue I didn’t know. But I do.

There are no enemies here, I tell myself. No one dies today, I say.

Love,

Brady

12/25/2015

I was watching Anthony Bourdain’s visit to China yesterday. An economist explains to him the rapid growth in China’s economy. We have been at peace for a very long time, he says. That allows for growth and prosperity. It’s only one factor, but an important one. We on the other hand have been at war for a very long time.  Being at war does make defense contractors unimaginably wealthy. But almost everyone and everything else suffers. Still, the mob is easily excited about carpet bombing the enemy, even when we know, if we care to think it through, carpet bombing seldom has the results one expects.

War seldom brings the results one expects. But we seem to be drawn to it—as long as we can get the poor and working class to do most of the heavy lifting. Never mind that almost every military venture we have pursued in the last sixty years has failed in ways important. A retired colonel on Fox claims its because we have not killed ruthlessly enough, conjuring up images of Kurtz—the horror. Others claim it’s because we no longer fight to win. Trump says if he is president we will have so much winning we will get sick of it—nah, we never get sick of winning, he says. What is there to win, the poet asks.

It’s Christmas morning. It’s Christmas morning. 

I sip my sacramental coffee and for a moment think of Jesus—not so much the baby but the young man of thirty or so. A man who seems to know things. You never wrote anything down. Why, I ask him. Things get lost in translation, he says. But you know things, the poet says to him. The son of man, the son of god, smiles at him. So do you, he says. If you listen. To what, the poet asks. You know that too, Jesus tells him.

If we listen. I sip my coffee.

Love,

Brady

10/18/2017

Jenny writes me a note about driving the long way home from work and watching a North Carolina sunset. I’ve had several students in my life who wrote better prose than I did. Jenny was one. Her words are clean and sharp and wonderful to read.

Somehow, her watching the sunset in North Carolina and my watching the sunrise here at my house with the coffee brewing works as a bond for me. She writes about how the sun seems to linger so much longer in Texas. Whether it does or not, it lingers this morning.

I have two former students who now live in North Carolina, both better writers. So many of them were. One now lives in Spain, another in Florida, another north of Dallas… In my mind they all know each other. But of course they don’t, separated by time and even different schools. I sometimes dream about a reunion of all my old students and then I realize not only do they not know each other, I don’t know who most of them are. I tend to remember their essays better—some of them.

One about a student and her friend who would go to a pool hall when they were freshmen, to a place where when they walked in, the men would pause for a moment and notice them. Here we were beautiful, my student wrote. Another wrote about an official car pulling up to her house, men in uniform walking up to her front door to give her the dreaded news that her husband had been killed in Iraq, only she discovered it wasn’t her husband but the man who lived in the house before them—their best friend. Another about a housekeeper in the country illegally. They had come to America to escape the drug wars in their home, to give their children a safe place to live. Another about the death of Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway—lost in the maze of the war, speaking to dead comrades. And another about a husband and wife arguing in “Say Yes” over mix marriage when the wife discovers she is married to a stranger.

I sip my coffee and discover the sun is past the tree line. It’s been seven years since I taught, and I no longer miss my job. I certainly don’t miss the mob that has taken over much of higher education, lining their pockets while undermining any notion of higher education. But I do miss students, even the ones I don’t remember.

Today I will walk the road to the river and breath in the sliver of wild that still remains in my portion of the world.  I will sit at my computer and try to come up with the right combination of words that will somehow—what. I will ride my bike. This morning I cooked grits and eggs for breakfast. I washed, am washing, a load of clothes. I read a note from Jenny. I will undoubtedly talk to God sometime during the day—not so much prayer as a running monologue.  I will tell my wife how lucky I am to have her in my life, to have my children, to be well fed and relatively happy. I will worry over the world, how unnecessary we are made to fear and hate each other. I will cry a little.

I wish we could meet, drink a cup of coffee, and talk the world into place, he writes.

Love,

Brady

10/17/2017

There are times when I find myself longing to live in the later nineteenth century—in France. It’s the paintings I think. No refrigerators, no antibiotics, no cars, no out of season fruits flown in from another hemisphere—things I’ve grown accustomed to, take for granted.  But I look at a photograph of Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette or Manet’s The Balcony or Morisot’s Summer’s Day and I am pulled into wanting to be there. Not so much because it was a simpler time, but because I find myself thinking it was a time when the spirit broke loose in places from the traditional constraints, at least for free thinkers. I tell myself this—from looking at a few impressionism paintings.

It’s easy to assume too much from a painting.  Poets, artists, free thinking philosophers, naturalists, etc. have never been at home in any era, nor really free from the constraints of their culture.  Step outside the line too far, and the flesh eaters will pound on your door in the middle of the night. Still, I spend some time this morning going through my museum guide, Musée d’Orsay, looking at photographs of paintings, and yearning if just a little.

I miss the late 1960s in much the same way. The collective reaction to the war, to racism, to the false piety of the church, to the emptiness of life defined by television commercials—or what seemed to be the collective reaction by the song writers and artists and the post war baby boomers—held out a certain promise that things would be better, free from bullshit. But it proved itself to be just bullshit. The guard wheels and fires on college students, the draft is abandoned, Fred Hampton is assassinated by the Chicago police with the backing of the FBI, and the free spirited, free thinking, free living boomers sink back into the cracks of history, take jobs as bankers and advertisers—recanting it all as youthful exuberance.  They are replaced in the history of current events by team Jesus and the prosperity disciples. They offer as their political legacy Bill Clinton, George Bush, and the Donald.  I wonder sometimes about the collective sin.

Joni Mitchell has grown old and seems a little bitter from a later interview I watched on YouTube. Mark worries that she may be dying, laments that she never found the one love we all seem to yearn for. I listen to “Big Yellow Taxi.” They paved paradise. And put up a parking lot. I have grown old too, my body losing ground to the inevitable. I don’t feel bitter though. Maybe a little disappointed, but I fight that too. I am still here,  I still think, yearn for something more, something possible even if it means wrestling with angels or God. I look at a painting in a museum guide and accept my part in the rebellion, a connection between like minded souls.

An old classmate tells me that we must learn to surrender to a high power, that we will be judged by our faithfulness to that higher power.  It’s not about being good, he said as we ate eggs and bacon one morning.  It’s about being faithful. Bullshit, I told him. It’s about choosing—between good and evil if you wish, but choosing. For all we know, we only have this one chance to claim ourselves, this one chance to get good at something, one chance to breath free.

So I may not be able to live in Paris in 1875—or 1924—or even Paris today. I live in Belton, Texas—hardly an oasis of free thought. But I am here. I hike a path next to the river and piss on the ground in the bushes.

Love,

Brady

10/16/2017

Bob asks the question as he is flying back to China, 32,000 feet above the water—whom would you wish to spend a quiet dinner and unstructured conversation, Shakespeare or Lear or Cordelia or Sandburg or Lincoln or ??? My fifth grade girlfriend, Julie, I answer. Julie whom I haven’t seen since 1957 and who died seven years ago.  Lauren Bacall, Mark answers. I could have easily said my daughter, Melinda, but Melinda and I had dozens of those quiet dinners and unstructured conversations when we lived together in New Mexico, before she grew sicker. I miss Melinda—it’s almost unbearable how much, but we talked the world out between us when she was here.

Shakespeare might be interesting, but not I think for me. I have his poems, his plays, if I need to ask him something. Cordelia maybe, though she and I were too much alike.  My mother noticed it when she first saw Lear. Cordelia who one might argue was rhetorically challenged. All she had to do is tell the old fool she loved him more, but truth was more important to the child. And in the end, even if she was the only one who really loved her father—they both die. I sit a the table eating a cheeseburger and a coke. Couldn’t you have humored the old man, I ask. Couldn’t you, she responds. We spend the rest of the evening eating in the silence.

I talk to the dead much of the time anyway. I don’t remember talking to fictional characters, though I listen to them when I read. Sing for the fat lady, Seymour tells Zooey and Franny and me. I don’t spend much time talking to the famous dead or the great books people dead. I talk instead to the people I loved, or should have loved.

The truth is the famous or the great don’t have that much to offer me as far as company. Famous is not real, more than one person has discovered. And great is overrated. Tom Robbins once remarked that those people who have discovered real wisdom will go unnoticed for the most part, because they don’t have this desperate need to explain themselves, to impress. It is enough to breath and enjoy. 

It is enough to breath and enjoy. I think I believe that more as I grow old. Though here I am writing this love letter to you, trying to impress. The implications are obvious, but I can live with that. Perhaps die with that reality too.

I am watching the sunset sky today. I’m late writing you. Had blood work this morning, then took my brother for a bone scan.

Kiss me quick, the old poet says. Quickly, Twilla reminds him, but she misses the point. Point misser, he tells her.

Love,

Brady

10/15/2017

I spent Friday and Saturday listening to poets reading to poets. Ken Hada from Oklahoma—the guy who runs Scissortail—soft spoken giant, a man whose hand could probably crush yours with a simple handshake if he wished but knows how to cradle firmly—reads his poems born from water and dirt, knowing just how important—water and dirt. Read his new book of poems, Bring an Extra Mule, if you need to feel the strong connection with things important, with your soul.

Ken reads softly—

When I think of Lorca’s death,
his young life erased
so soon, so unceremoniously

I wonder what is the hope
of poetry, the purpose of words,
why we sing only to die.

Somewhere in Saturday, I found myself returning to my own poems, my first book, the one I wrote before Melinda died, her death be a shift in the world—a seismic break. I had forgotten them, as I seem to have forgotten almost everything before.

He looks for you
in the aisles of Central Market,
the crashing of smells
and colors, how you once
picked an avocado perfectly ripe
from a bin in produce—

This one is sweeter,
his daughter tells him,
bringing him to the moment,
handing him two orange wedges,
one for the toddler
strapped in the cart. Orange,
the young girl says, reaching.
Orange, he replies.

His third daughter, Lou, hands him an orange wedge. The old poems better than he remembered. Better in the sense that they have become, without his realizing, a kind of bridge between then and what follows, which is only another kind of then. Better for him at least, offering the whole of him back, if that is possible.

Do we sing only to die.  Perhaps, if we are good enough. That America does not read poetry may be an indictment that we don’t write them good enough, or well enough—or it may mean something more empty and lonely. We glue ourselves to the earth with our songs, the earth being part of the creation, thus part of God. Dirt and water.

Toward the end of the evening, I unexpectedly grew weary, my neck stiffened, and I left to go home to my wife. Toward the end of the evening, I longed for my bed.

Love,

Brady  

10/14/2017

Split coffee on my keyboard this morning.  It’s still dark outside. Took my brother to the doctor yesterday to learn he won’t need surgery on his foot. Drove to Georgetown to read a few of my poems.  Heard some exceptional poetry being read. It’s still dark outside.

Listened to Michelle read about how a eight year old girl lost her faith when she was told by the preacher that her dog and other pets don’t get to go to heaven, but her recently drowned child molesting big brother does because he took a bath in some special water.

It’s that special water that make the difference.

I read a NY Times article about a steel worker losing her job to a plant in Monterey, Mexico—the difference between $25 an hour and $6 an hour. Free market capitalism—the way it works. Though the free market evangelicals will tell you that it’s all part of God’s master plan, that the free market will sooner or later make everyone prosperous and free—after all it’s got free in it. It’s somewhere in the Bible, though it ain’t. Marilynne Robinson tells us that the Old Testament makes Marx seem tame, the forgiving of debts every seven years, etc. But who is reading Marilynne Robinson. I am, Mark mutters from his table.

We are supposed to help each other, the poet cries out. Love each other—but not in that way, Franco snarls as they drag Garcia Lorca out of the house and into the night.

 The sun is starting to break the tree line. It’s Saturday. College football—but I will be heading back down to Georgetown for more poetry—a different kind of head trauma.

Yesterday, a woman reads a poem about a post middle aged man painting his house while wearing a speedo, his love handles hanging over the spandex. Did someone tell him he was beautiful, the poet asks. Does he think he’s beautiful in his speedos with his post middle aged love handles. I see myself as that man, having been taken in by the poem. I am the God damn man, taking three years to paint his house. I need to lose weight, lose years—that’s got to be possible, right—get some looser shorts. And put on a shirt for Christ’s sakes, someone says.

I’m in love with a woman who died in 1895, he tells the gathering. She s a painter, and artist—and she don’t look back. I’m in love with Morisot, he whispers. How could he not be.

Love,

Brady

10/12/2017

In the beginning, these were love letters—meant to woo your heart. Lately, too often they have become lamentations, though lamentations are a kind of love letter. Piazolla plays the background, progressive tango.

It’s Thursday morning. Yesterday, my brother learned he had broken his foot in two places. Will see someone Friday to see if he will need surgery. Monday, I have a blood test scheduled to see if I will need to take steroids for two years—the price for not dying young.  The sun is breaking the tree line. The morning sky is my favorite color, a kind of pink purple grey. My coffee is fresh and hot. My neck is a little stiff. Poetry seems to be on hold, if not dying. The yearning of the tango—the longing for something hardly defined.

I watch the garbage truck collect my brother’s garbage. He had missed putting it out for a couple of weeks, and it had begun to smell. Yesterday, I hauled it to the curb. Somewhere there is a landfill collecting the refuse of civilization.  We are filling the earth with scraps of paper, rotting food, cans, plastic, whatever. We recycle, but not enough. The earth is crying out, but we can not hear it.

Lamentations, when I meant to invite you to dance with me. Meant to whisper in your ear some secret code. I pose, arms outstretched, warrior modified. I breath in now into my lungs. No pain, Vonnegut tells me from the grave. Here I am cleaning shit off practically everything, he once wrote. Then, no pain. The two recurring themes of his writing, given to him by his two siblings. He emerges from a slaughterhouse locker into a city burnt to a crisp by allied bombers, thousands turn to ash, a bird tweets. His sits up at night drinking and calling an old war buddy, trying to make sense of it, trying to write his novel which will somehow—what?

Vonnegut has become ingrained in my DNA. It’s too late for Donne, I think. Still, part of me wishes to step out on the hardwood floor with you and move to the music of a cello or a bandoneon. This yearning to hang onto life, to love. This singing to the moon, even if the moon is a cliché worn thin. I sip my coffee which Scot has told me has become an idol for me, like the lust for the love of a woman—a place in Dante’s circles of hell. I’m okay with that, the poet smiles, though his poetry too has worn thin.

You’ve gotta quit writing about getting the girl to smile at you, Mark once told me when the demons had gotten the best of him, when the blues wouldn’t sing him to sleep. There’s a world to save, as if poetry could—when it can’t even woo a heart very well. Besides it looks ridiculous on an old man, he added. We drink wine in a bar and read our poems to a crowd of two. Two being the only people not immediate family, and they just happened to be there. How can we get more people to come to these things, Donna asked later in the evening. We can’t, the poet tells her. He sees it as a kind of sign.

I could have been an engineer, he says to the tree line.

Love,

Brady

10/11/2017

There was no reason for the first world war, we simply had the assets—huge cannons, machine guns, etc. And money to be made in building and stockpiling these huge weapons. There were a few intelligent people who cried out, but the goons who ran the circus could not be deterred, and there was always the crowd—the mob. The machine gun mowed down thousands in a single battle, rendering the epic warrior and the epic poet equally irrelevant. I have written this before.

Romantic poetry too died during the war, according to Virginia. The faces of the rulers seen in the flash of cannon fire, so ugly, so stupid, she wrote. But the war was over, thank god. Still, a hundred years later we are still fighting it, if you understand your history. For the same reasons.

Wilfred Owen tried to tell us, but no one ever really listens. Instead we wrap ourselves in clichés about God and country, about freedom—though who is truly free. It appears that someone has to die, die by the hundreds of thousands, by the millions. Three to four million Vietnamese were slaughtered so we could free them. We don’t know how many Iraqis died—a million or more. Better them than us, Lindsey Graham said the other day when talking about the Korean peninsula. Better them than us, referring to Japanese and Korean farmers and cooks and merchants. When the war begins again, when the goons have had their way—anyone speaking out against it—

He once suggested that, at least during times of conflict, that the war be paid for by taxing the profits of the arms makers. We can’t deny them their profits, a cousin said. Profit being a sacred world. Profit more important than love, compassion, truth—

It is the poet’s duty, he says to a very small audience, to declare that every moment, every breath, every life is sacred. That the least of these is the creation, is God. The poet, if she is worth her salt, must somehow try to convey the importance of each heart beat. To be unaware, to lose contact with this truth, is to lose one’s soul.

He sips his coffee. Takes a breath. Meditates on what he must do today.

Love,

Brady

10/10/2017

Maybe I will simply listen to music today. My brother fell last night, not the first fall, but he is banged up. Do you want me to call an ambulance. No. We could both just sit here and die, I suggest. I gather his nightly pills, eight in all. Do you want to see the doctor in the morning. Maybe. I’ll call you, he says.

The cell phone comes in handy—hard to believe we lived functional and often happy lives without it. Read an article this morning about our vanishing attention spans as a result of our grid addiction. The like bing, the you’ve got a message or response, bing—the compulsive need to check the iPhone, even during the middle of a bike ride. It’s becoming more difficult to read paragraphs with whole sentences.

In the meantime Steve Bannon is playing a populist on television, a newspaper editor says on Morning Joe. Trump is playing a president on twitter. Corker warms we are sliding toward WWIII. War with N. Korea becoming more and more inevitable. One wonders if someone is trying to goad them into a first strike—that would simplify—but what would be the cost. Only lives, which have always been expendable.

Fresh water is lacking in half of Puerto Rico, even after the roads have been cleared.  FEMA shows up with forms not water and food, Rachel reported last night. 60,000 people in the Houston area are still displaced. The Keys are hardly back to normal.

So I listen to Simon and Garfunkel sing “America.” Let us be lovers. We’ll marry our fortunes together—as if listening to the music will alter the reality of falls and wars.  As if by listening to music, the blue fairy will appear and make me into a real boy—capable of being loved. How he has longed for the touch of someone—all come to look for America.

And what if the earth is a living and conscious being, maybe not conscious the way we understand it, but conscious in a self protective way.  The earth is too huge, too grand to be undermined by man, Rush once said, or something like that, when he was claiming that mankind couldn't cause climate change if it wanted too. I turned off the radio.

“Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”—It was against the law, what the mama saw…

I always prefer peace, he would tell his classes.

I prefer love that’s free, he told his old buddy Saturday as they drank coffee, checking the smoker temperature now and then. But we live in a world that demands something else. This is the world, he says.

Love,

Brady

10/9/2017

The calm before the storm—What storm—You’ll see—Stay tuned.

He sips his coffee, listens to the Monday morning traffic outside his window—people heading for work. An ordinary day—how many more. Birds chirping. Vonnegut writes the birds chirped after Dresden. Greed and stupid, Hawking warns. Personified, the poet mutters, but really only a mirror.

Smokes brisket all morning on Saturday. They read their poems to a small gathering. In a way we all hope for Garćia Lorca’s fate, the poet says—to be taken from our homes in the middle of the night and shot, knowing that at least someone is reading our poems, knowing that somehow one’s poems could be a threat to the goons who would have you believe they are God’s chosen. They are not.

God’s appointed is a woman selling tortillas in a bakery in San Antonio. She is a hundred years old if a day, and she works as slow as molasses. A local poet waits in line for her morning fix of warm tortillas recently baked and writes about her, about the crowd that gathers in the morning at the bakery. If you want to see God at work, go there.

Love,

Brady

10/6/2017

I read a review of The Sea Came in at Midnight, a book I liked very much, by a person who despised the book within ten pages. It’s a sad review. The guy admits he likes Erickson, just not this book—which is okay—but he doesn’t read positive reviews of it, because he doesn’t want to be left out. I liked the book, if for no other reason, and it isn’t the only reason, it’s where I first encountered the term point misser. Kristen uses the term. Our reviewer doesn’t seem to agree with the author that Kristen is intelligent or wise. Point misser, the poet wants to say, but knowing all along we all seem to miss the point—is there even a point to be made. Still I liked the book very much, wanted to teach it, but knew that I had already pushed the boundaries in my very Baptist university where we pretended to believe, but missed the point entirely.

What is it we believed—An incoming provost once wrote in a letter to the university that all good things begin with money, or something to that effect. Why isn’t that blasphemy, I asked a table of professors. Didn’t Jesus say—I began. That’s all fine in theory, one of the people at the table said, a former preacher. So Jesus is just a theory guy, all very fine, but this is the real world, I said. We agreed that someone was missing the point.

A speaker at the president’s inauguration—a president at a small Christian university himself—claimed that no one appreciated how many nights a university president lies in bed awake thinking of money. So when I came across Kristen in The Sea—she makes another appearance in Our Ecstatic Days—and read her calling a sushi vendor a point misser because he had run out of wasabi, I knew I was on to something. It was from Kristen in the second novel that I learned her best prayer which became my best prayer, though it’s difficult to embrace at times. My distillation of the prayer becomes, what ever, God.

Point misser, God whispers in my ear in almost audible King James English.

So no one I invited, except a couple family, shows up. Thankfully, a few people were there just to be there. The poet reads her poems to the walls. I am here, she says. We are here, Mark says. We are as good as dead, we both seem to agree as we drink Mark’s wine. Rachel has discovered that her condition isn’t Parkinson’s. It’s that I’m crazy, she tells me. But after confronted with the notion that everything was simply inside her head, a way of dealing with the fucking insanity of the world, she has started getting better.  She can drive now, even run a little. She can hold up her head. With in weeks of getting the news that she was just crazy. But the forces that drove her into the corner still lurk. There are those forces—often family members. But deeper than just other people—the motivation itself goes much deeper.

The poet stands in an almost empty room and openly declares that each moment, each breath, each person counts. The first shall be last, the last shall be first, don’t you see—because it’s not linear don’t you see. The poet reads with all his heart, all her heart, all his heart, because heart is all he has, all she has.

Love,

Brady

10/5/2017

James bought a bottle of Spanish red for my birthday, Marqués de Riscal. We drank it. Yesterday, I walked 4 ½ miles, mowed the lawn, cooked chicken teriyaki and rice—some of that has to count. Listening to Joni sing “California.” I like California, the poet admits. But I feel more grounded here in Central Texas, something about living in a place so long that the language is infused in your blood—like being married to the same woman for 39 years, after 28 it starts to smooth out. Something in the way you speak to each other.

It is true, that on the drive from Redlands, I uttered the sentence from a current commercial more than once—I have a brand new putter my wife doesn’t even know about. What, my wife says. It is true that I could probably move to the Pacific coast and make a seamless adjustment. I feel the same way about New York City, or London, or Paris, or Seattle—though the grey might drive me to dink more coffee. I would ride the ferry to Bainbridge Island every day or at least once a week, write poems about the sound and the tides and gooey duck hunting.

I sip my coffee. I have a poetry reading today at 6:30 in Belton with Mark and Rachel. I worry about no one showing up, but that’s happened before. If it does, I will read to the wall. I will read to God, to myself. It will be fine—here in America.

There is a dream somewhere in the fabric of the stories we tell. A dream that Mark might say is embedded in the blues more that anywhere else. Something about seeing your way through until you reach tomorrow. In Lordsburg we ate at MacDonald’s. A busload of kids were there, perhaps an athletic team of some kind. The kids were mostly black and brown, looking hip. I loved being among them, felt something has been missing in my own life, a life that has become comfortably numb in its whiteness. The dream includes them, is perhaps more them than me. I am an old white guy, but I can dance, I wanted to say.

I am an old white guy, but I can still dance, the poet whispers in your ear.  I had almost forgotten, he says. But I am a wizard, dancing on the string between here and nowhere, between light and dark, between the words spoken when we are alone with each other.

Kiss me quick, he whispers.

Love,

Brady

10/4/2017

I am out of touch, have more or less always been out of touch, with who is or was a celebrity. The contemporary music scene, the classic music scene, film stars, writers, reality TV—didn’t know Pink Floyd until a student introduced me to them twelve years ago—so you think you can tell heaven from hell… Listening to Tom Petty this morning—I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings…

I stumble on artists, poets, thinkers almost by accident, usually years after the fact. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead sat on my shelf unread for a six or seven years. Even after Mark recommended her to me, I waited a year or more. Then I read her—wow—but Marilynne is hardly a celebrity. Not in the Tom Petty sense, I think. But understand Prince was lost on me as a significant character in a day of the life of America. I didn’t know who Joni Mitchel was until ten years ago or so. Listen to her music all the time now.  I knew the Beatles and Ali—and JFK. I saw a Jackson Pollock in a New York museum and felt the movement of whatever moves when you witness a certain magic, but I’m still not all that familiar with the artist.

I have a few friends who are poets and writers and artist. I know them.

But I am out of sync. Brett Foster introduced me to Tyndale six years ago. Didn’t know Tyndale. Then Brett died in his early forties a couple years after that, and this morning I had to search through my poetry book shelves to find Brett. The books are in alphabetical by author, but I couldn’t remember his name. I liked Brett Foster very much when I met him. Emailed him once about his book. He emailed me back, saying he hoped this would be the beginning of a long conversation. But he slipped into the next world quietly on me. I found out from another friend he had died. This morning, I couldn’t remember his name. But I remembered his introducing me to the language of Tyndale, the vernacular that became Shakespeare and company.

Who is famous, who isn’t—obviously it ain’t me, the poets says offhandedly. Can’t get six people to show for a public reading—but does it matter.

I watch the current president toss paper towels to a crowd in Puerto Rico as if he were shooting free throws. I could do that while reading my poems—toss out rolls of Bounty. Only I’m left handed—at least when shooting free throws.  Write right handed.

The point, the point, some old composition teacher screams at me. There is no point—not in this note, not in shooting hoops with paper towels, not in the looming war with North Korea or Iran or with whatever. Not in all the wars ever fought. Not in Rome. A large cockroach scurries across the floor beside my desk. Gregor Samsa wakes one morning to discover… Who the hell is Gregor Samsa.

I sip my coffee.  It’s still dark outside. Been raining off an on. Just remembered, today is my fucking birthday. I’m 71. Last year I posted a photograph of me doing a dead lift. Can’t do that today. Happy birthday to me.

Love,

Brady