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Monday, April 30, 2012

The Ghost of Charles Bukowski, novel excerpt / partial tribute, part 2

Continuing with this story. I have to warn you though... I only got as far as chapter five plus a general concept of where I might go.
Read part one, if you haven't already.


Three hours later, I’m three sheets to the wind, camped out in the bar booth, which even now that I’m familiar with it, is as eerie as a swamp from an old horror movie. Since it remains that type of setting and I have made it my home, then I am the creature from the dismal swamp. Truth be known, I’m hoping Charles will come in. He’s been scarce since I told him to fuck off, which is typical. He takes things so personally, asshole that he is, ghost of an asshole that he is.
            Night is thinking about taking this ludicrous whore of a town to bed. I can hardly wait. Because with both of them distracted by each other, I might try to sneak home unspotted. To while away the last light, I signal to Enright—that’s the barkeep—for another. Since there are only two other people in the joint, cocooned in a beery discussion that might be political, he sees me right away and comes by with a whiskey sour in only about a half hour.
            “Much obliged, Enright.” No reply.
            I knock back the drink in three domino slugs, and at last my equilibrium topples. I’m going to be sick. I lay down on the forsaken leatherette and gaze at the churning, catacomb beneath the table. I close my eyes, but it’s worse. I open them and tell myself that I’m not going to be sick. If Charles would chime in, it would make a nice, startling rasp to draw my attention. He’d tell me that puke or no puke doesn’t matter. The scum and filth are inside me, and inside everyone, and there’s no getting apart from it. If the vomit isn’t on the floor, it’s in my belly and my esophagus, making me sick from within. You could call Charles an anti-transcendental, the philosopher of the lowest muck you can find, like that on the bottom of the table. I go ahead and vomit with surprising stealth. I think the noise I make is no louder than a deep sigh. The substance I release feels instantly at home where it lands, and I don’t think the stench will travel quickly through this air.  Now that the nausea has passed, I’m sure I can beat it.
            I sit up and suffer a headrush that’s no worse that my inebriation. I teeter through both of these to where Enright stands, staring out at the new night. I’m sure three twenties will more than cover the drinks with a tip so generous as to be sarcastic. I toss them overthree and keep moving toward the door, exiting on my monologue:
            “Nighty night, Enright, gentlemen. This is a great place. I hope to come back soon. Where the hell am I?”
            This punch line hits two steps into the sidewalk. I can see right away that I should not expect a great deal of hansom traffic in this neighborhood. With a faint sense of downtown, I begin to walk, taking deep breaths, trying not to think. There is a beautiful rim of purple light on the western horizon, peeking around the low buildings and trees. It’s heartbreaking in its color and in the way it radiates peace as it leaves..
            “That’s the color of a peaceful death.”
            I stop walking, not sure who spoke. It might have been Charles, but he’s not here. There is a black man not far from me, leaning against a brick wall, looking at the light. I look at him, but he makes no indication that he said or heard anything. Maybe it was me, but my mouth is closed and my tongue is in that kind of sleep where even if a fire alarm went off my muscles would only twitch. I turn in place. I should ask the man for directions, but I don’t. I resume walking toward the light while Miami and her night collide.

I have both dumb luck and a mind for maps. Combined with the sun-faded partial diagrams posted at a series of bus stops, these bring me to a thoroughfare where there are taxis. A few blocks away there’s a movie theater, and I go there. It’s big,  20 screens or more, and so bright, that my eyes ache. Squinting into the box office, I order a ticket for the next movie that’s starting.
            “Spy Kids 4?” asks the cashier.
            “Yeah. I’ve been waiting months to see it.”
            Inside the theater, the light drives drills into my skull, but the trappings of familiar entertainment, familiar from coast to coast, are so comforting that I actually stop at concessions and stand fourth in line to buy a big bag of popcorn and a 7-Up. 7-Up is what I always drank when I was a kid with the flu.
            In the theater, it’s dark for a moment before the film starts and all I see in that space are Amy’s eyes. I see her. She’s hurt. But then the previews start, and the sound swallows me, and I eat popcorn and drink 7-Up and fall into a trance that turns into sound sleep before the film begins its unfunny comedy about nothing.
            I wake when the lights come up. I leave with the crowd, go the can, and close myself into a stall. I feel nauseous again, so I put down an ass-gasket, drop trou and sit. After about ten minutes, I nearly fall asleep again, but roust myself, go to the sink, deluge my face in cold water. Then I wash my hair in great splashes from the sink. I wash my face again, and my neck, then move dripping to the towel dispenser while boys and their dads skirt around me for their business. Men typically give one another breadth when they do their bathroom, and that’s a mercy.
            With paper towels, I dry off more or less, then go back to the same theater. There’s a young usher looking at me who clearly wants to say something about my double-dipping. We exchange a conversation with our eyes. 
            I tell him not to worry about it. 
            He tells me he needs to enforce cinema rules, but he’s not trying be a dick about it. 
            I tell him I’m harmless, by which I mean to leave me alone and go find the teenagers who are doubtless causing trouble somewhere in this entertainment megalopolis. 
            But he takes the meaning of my confession to harmlessness as an invitation to confront me so he can feel good about earning his minimal if not minimum wage without risking anything too serious. 
            With a last visual cue, I let him know that we’ve already made our peace.
            “Can I see your ticket?”
            “Sure. This is my movie. I just came late to the last show and just want to see how it starts.”
            He looks at the ticket. “Okay, go on in.”
            “We could have avoided all that.”
            I go into the theater, take my same seat, and doze off again before the previews start. The last image I see is Amy, whom I love. Who is somewhere in Miami stung by the first and hopefully last jilting of her life.
            God, I don’t know why I did that.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A poem about surrender and the process behind the form

Welcome again, friends. We may return to prose, the ghost of Charles Bukowski and other first chapters later this month, but for now I want to share this poem inspired by 5Rhythms dance, specifically a class I took from Kathy Altman of The Moving Center School.  This is in anticipation of an interview with Lori Saltzman, Kathy's partner, on creativity at the crossroads of movement and writing.

What's unique about this poem is the process through which I found it. But first, here's the poem: 

"I'll believe it when I relent."

I topple to rise up, and I tower to fall;
both a yen to start and an urge to surrender.
At whose bidding do I cross and re-cross the hall?
"I push backwards…I go forwards." —Larry Eigner.
"Nothing is true that isn't paradoxical."

Kathy Altman says this. I hear it in my gyre.
"In a field / I am the absence / of field." —Mark Strand.
This cool hardwood floor is the perfect dance partner.
Head on the ground, feet firmly in the air, I stand.
The ground pushes up my fire, bruises my apple.

We are standing bubbles of air, water and sand.
My abstruse psyche reads nakedly on my face.
What I wear becomes my name. Call me "Blue Shirt Man."
Perhaps my words are thick. I'm not going to rephrase.
We're called by God, spirits, ourselves, and each other,

and in peripatetic growth, we find a place.
Though prone to paroxysms, hail Us, full of grace.

How did this poem come to me? Out of the middle of my workday, I took a nearby 5Rhythms dance class with Kathy. She said, among other things, "Nothing is true that isn't paradoxical." She  spoke about the floor as the ideal dance partner. The floor supports, but it also "bruises my apple." And Kathy called me "Blue Shirt Man." You can guess what I was wearing.  

In my dance, as often happens, I was transported beyond the usual routines of my life. There I picked up elemental images and got reminded of clips of poems and other sources. The conclusion of the poem--this fascination and gratitude for the grace we find in a 5Rhythms dance and in the larger dance of life--is what came out of that day's movement for me.

The form of the poem is queron, which my readers will recognize as the 17-line form I developed. However, this poem didn't come in the more-or-less linear flow that's typical of my writing queron. Instead, I felt my way into a writing process that could accommodate all the bits and pieces I had collected from  Kathy's instruction, from my own discovery, from other poetry sources, and from the process of writing the poem at hand.

So what I did was use MicroSoft Excel. It's a spreadsheet program that lets you move lines as cells. Though not the first choice for many poets, I have found Excel helpful for writing sestinas and other formal poems. Through the day, I wrote four sets of five rhyming lines. I wrote five lines that ended on "-al," five on "-and," five on "-ace/aze" and five on "er/ier." Which meant that I had three extra lines for a 17-line poem. Once the lines were written, I typed them into Excel and then played with them, arranging and rearranging them like building blocks or DNA proteins according to the queron rhyme scheme (ababa bcbca dcdcb dd). At the time I wrote the lines, I didn't know which set of five would be complete and which rhyming sets the dropped lines would come from.

In this poem, the ordering of discreet lines is what gives the poem its rhythm. The rhythm is based on the fact that almost every line is a single sentence or sentiment unto itself. The three lines I wrote but did not use:

I don't feel I'm part substance, part luminous soul.
My core's momentum resonates from feet and hands.
You can change your week by slowing one minute's pace.

One paradox in all this is that the free-form aspect of 5Rhtyms and the free-associative nature of the lines in this poem underwent an analytical and deliberate process to come together. But what's perfectly fitting is that I could only discover the process by going into it.

And hey! Don't forget to follow me. More interesting things coming!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Ghost of Charles Bukowski, a novel excerpt or a partial tribute

At the end of my freshman year in college, a professor loaned by Love Is a Dog From Hell by Charles Bukowski. The 300+ page book of poetry about horseracing, prostitutes, drunkenness, despair and the rare moment of transcendence makes a strange source for an epiphany, I warrant. But as a 19-year-old who had been carrying a poetry journal for the two years or so prior, that book offered one brilliant illumination and made me forever indebted to the misanthrope poet of Los Angeles. Bukowski just wrote. He didn't wait for a subject; he didn't edit himself or circumscribe his thoughts; he didn't sweat line breaks or unpleasant odors. He wrote what he wanted. That's what Dog from Hell said to me: write what you want.

Ever since then, I've thought about my relationship to Bukowski's work, and have dabbled with imaginings about his ghost. I include one of these poems in "Monster Poems." Recently, I also uncovered a novel concept and first few chapters with the working (or not working) title "Better Safe Than Haunted by the Ghost of Charles Bukowski." Needs work, I reckon. But here's the first chapter for your reading enjoyment.

If you'd like to read more, click that "Follow" link up at the top of this page. If I get a few of you to do so, I'll post chapter two.

Chapter 1

“Misery is the privilege that finds you when you need it to,” quips Charles, belting me across the face. My chin whips over my left shoulder, and I go down. Needless to say, nobody sees the blow that fells me. Conveniently for Charles, he’s non-corporeal. Annie gasps in surprise. My toppling is a far cry from the expected response to the question, "Do you take this woman to love, cherish, honor, obey, in sickness and in health, 'til death, yadda yadda…"
            From my vantage point at carpet level I can see already where this is going, this ceremony, this afternoon, this evening, tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. I can see it going a long way away.
            “Here’s your mantle,” says Charles. “Wear it proudly.”
            I lift my face up to the shoes of my Uncle Joe and Aunt Maddie who have come in from Cleveland. Cries of confusion and concern arise from all quarters. I postpone saying anything to anybody until it’s Annie, my dad and the pastor who are closest.
            “I can’t,” I say. They know what I mean. I see Annie’s dad has the message, too, but there’s this clinging we people do, denying what’s patently true because we want some explanation that will change the truth. I notice that Annie understands: her eyes are brimming. The pastor’s eyes are rolling, like he’s heard it all before and now he’s going to have to advocate for the rest of his fee. It’s my dad that’s desperate for words.
            “What do you mean? You can’t what? What’s going on? Do you know who’s here?”
            “Come on, dad,” I say, cold as Charles, who is now nowhere to be seen. “You get it. I’m not going through with this. I’m sorry. This whole scene isn’t for me. That’s the bitter truth.”
            Dad’s hand comes down like a spanking on my shoulder, though his grimace looks as if he means to brace me for the customary conclusion to this event—the one that includes a hailstorm of uncooked rice. I shake him off, and on the tide of murmurs, understanding and disparagement, I ride out of the chapel at a speed walk. Outdoors on the steps isn’t nearly far enough, so I keep walking fast, down the lawn to the sidewalk, down the sidewalk, past the fence, across a street…
            Like a lost penguin, I walk quick, turning corners, seeking some way to home in on where I’m supposed to go. I keep turning so the people who will soon be leaving the church will not chance to drive past me. I don’t want the people who knew me to find me. I don’t want the people who thought they’d know me to tell me anything, either. I walk for at least an hour in the blasting Miami summer until I’m soaked through and God knows where.
            Charles appears for a moment to draw my attention to a shadowed doorway. “In here,” he rasps.
            It’s dim and rancid with a single black bar and a half-dozen wounded naugahide stools. A couple tables and mismatched chairs mill around like anonymous alcoholics. A booth forebodes against the far wall. A vintage but worthless jukebox appears to be unplugged. A beer-brand lampshade stubbornly asserts, “Miller.”
            The craggiest, most Caucasian man I’ve seen in Florida eyes me.
            “Miller,” I say.
            “What’s with the tux?”
            “Walked out on my bride to be.”
            “Truth,” Charles enunciates. “More beautiful than a bride. Better than peanuts with beer.”
            “Shut the fuck up.”
            The bartender looks ready to swing a haymaker at me.
            “Not you,” I say. “The voices in my head.”
            “Okay,” says Charles. “But this one just came to me. Then I leave you to your mug of cold piss:
            heart broke
            and breaking
            sometimes the whole
            mass of the world
            stops a minute
            to nod
            its distaste

            for you.

            you’re tired,
            so it rolls off
            like beer foam.

            in a minute
            your turn is over,
            and the next
            man in line
            throws the

            As I pound the beer, Charles swirls away into the stale effluvia of this place, and I move on to whiskey.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

New chapbook! Graaaahhh!

The book is here. If you're in town, meet me at The Marsh, April 23.
Or order yours here, now. Suggested donation of $4-7 includes shipping anywhere within the U.S.

The book is here!
"Monster Poems" by Daniel Ari
Illustrated by Lauren Ari
Get your copy today.
Suggested donation $4-7 via PayPal to efflux at
includes shipping anywhere within the U.S.