On being a bad member of my literary community

The last two months have been so fucking strange.  I’ll confess that I selfishly thought that once everything shut down and I had to work from home that I would be so much more productive, as if the fact that people dying in a pandemic was a great excuse for me to write some pretty poems.  Then, I felt guilty about that.  Then, I felt guilty because I didn’t end up producing much of anything for a solid month.   I did end up firing off a small COVID-19 poem, one of those poems you write in one go, and to my surprise it was almost immediately picked up a new poetry journal called Passengers, with a first issue planned for July 1, 2020.

I tried to write a few other poems but nothing seemed to take, so I started thinking of other ways I could do poety works.  First, I’m going to be a reader for a journal.  A prose poem I wrote for my fiction workshop last year is now out in the After Happy Hour Review. We did a live zoom reading on May 5 and afterwards I volunteered to be a poetry reader for them.  Second:  I’m putting out a chapbook.  A poet I know from South Bend (now Arizona), Charles Edward Payne, has finished a chapbook and we’re working with Marcos Guinoza, a visual artist, to put out a chapbook under the dormant Retirement Plan brand. I’m organizing a live virtual reading that will take place in a month.

I know I need to be doing more.  I could start reviewing chapbooks, for one.  Ok, I’m going to order some chapbooks right now.  Ok, I just ordered three chapbooks.  I’d like to start writing a few reviews per month.  If nothing else I’ll *feel* more connected, you know?




Oklahoma Day Flurmteen

Today all I ate was biscuits. I made a tin of Buttermilk biscuits and spent the day eating them all. I used an entire stick of butter. While I chewed I thought of wheat and soil, farmers. I smiled, pretending someone could see how wholesome I was being. Like when I went to the movies alone in Tishomingo last night, a small one-screen theater built in 1938, with my popcorn and my soda. I ate the biscuits after they were cold, I ate them after I was no longer hungry, I ate them when I felt sick. I’m eating one now. Baking is wholesome, right? I figured it must be. I feel like I don’t know how to do anything and really mean it. Anything at all but drink and be alone and fuck women who never speak to me again. Baking, though. That’s a thing of home. A good, admirable thing. And I think that if I could only eat enough of them I could become a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, too. Sometimes I picture an apple tree, straining toward the sun whenever someone happens through the orchard, hoping people see its fruit. Look, it says, see what I can do with only some sun, some soil, some water. You must think it a good thing I was planted here.

Oklahoma Day 9

Oklahoma Day 9: I was hoping for more stars once I moved back to the country, but it’s been too cloudy and rainy to see much. I’m sure it will come but I’m impatient for them to arrive. Our cities scream back at the night sky, an amplified reflection, and sometimes nothing at all gets through. Once, while visiting my hometown of Bushnell from Chicago, I’d forgotten what a dark sky looked like. I was on a late night run and happened to look up right at the spot where Mr. Alexander, the art teacher, died suffering a heart attack while driving to school. I think I’d never been stopped in my tracks before. And yes, they were beautiful and humbling and vast but that wasn’t what struck me. How angry, I thought, the starlight must be. How angry when, exhausted, faint, and stumbling to the finish, it finds itself upstaged by a thousand watt halogen at a Chrysler dealership. In Las Vegas the spire of light atop the Luxor Casino pyramid has created its own ecosystem. First insects, then bats to feast upon them. A tiny sun, drawing into itself an orbit of life from the blackness.

Oklahoma day 8

Laundry day in Tishomingo. I don’t have a washer or dryer so I head to the laundromat. It doesn’t have a name, it’s just “The Laundromat.” There’s no one else here. The lights weren’t even on when I walked in. Parts of the ceiling have collapsed. On first glance I thought it might be abandoned. There is a vending machine that says “laundry aids” in that playful 60s font used for Hanna-Barberra cartoon, features mid-century abstract splatter effect daisies. There’s nothing in it. An austere black sign prohibits oil field mechanic’s grease soiled clothing. The oil fields apparently went bust years ago. There is no change machine so I had to walk over to the gas station that sells knives and throwing stars to get quarters. The machines groan in protest but struggle to life when prompted. There’s something heroic about this place. Something deeply human. Clean. To be clean. I like to imagine a shattered landscape decades hence. Bandits roam about in improvised vehicles. First came the droughts, then the wildfires. The dust and ash gets everywhere. The Laundromat is mostly destroyed at this point but a few machines call out, to a solitary figure picking through the rubbish, “Hey, it’s okay. Let’s get you in here, get you out of those clothes, get you clean.”

Oklahoma Day 3

In Illinois I passed tiny a field of active oil pump jacks on I70. I always forget that Illinois is an oil producing state until I see them, the heads in smooth movement, up and down, like a bowing monk forever giving thanks to the fields for this gift. In Oklahoma all of the pump jacks I’ve seen are stationary. I don’t know if they’ve just been given a break but a few are rusting and overgrown with thin, twisting trees that force their branches through the joints and the scaffolding and eventually cover the thing entirely. The effect is rather like a scar. Skin enveloping a rusting needle left in the vein after the blood ran out. And that’s not what saddens me about them. More, it’s that they put me in mind of a poet who publishes a single book and then stays that way, bowed in some type of adoration.

Oklahoma Day 4

There is a statue downtown, in front of the bank. A little girl, her arms at her sides and hands balled into fists. Her head his thrown back and her mouth open. A plaque says the sculture is called “The Raincatcher,” and captures the bliss of a child drinking rain. She doesn’t look blissful though. She looks like she’s screaming at God. Her scream is mute, and eternal. It is thought that the deep red sky of Munch’s The Scream is a repersentation of the brilliant European sunsets that followed the 1883 eruption of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa. The eruption was the loudest sound in recorded history. It circled the world three times. Sailors 10 miles away were deafened. In Perth, Australia, people thought ships in the harbor were fring canons. But by the time it reached Norway? Barely a whisper. The scream had already gone silent.

There is also a statue of a young boy with a baseball glove about to catch a fly ball.


Got the cover for the book today.  My first published collection The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island, will be published in just a few months by Urban Farmhouse Press in Windsor, ON.  It’s so strange.  When I started to get serious about this poetry stuff in 2014 the idea of publishing a book was so remote as to seem impossible.  Now I just need to keep the momentum going.  I’m leaving to move to Oklahoma in three days and hoping the change of scenery and routine allows me to build a new routine from the ground up.  Dedicated time for exercise and writing, every day.   83987391_1802805289852659_3507748907889197056_o