Friday, November 30, 2012

Seven Bean Salad

Following, find a Crown of seven word poems. This form has the brevity and economy of haiku, but allows a little more freedom. A few of these probably also qualify as Haiku or Senryu, but who's counting?


Her arms
pinned tight- my
tongue attacks.

How hot
her hands have
suddenly become.

So soft
in my mouth-
Her gasp.

Half moon-
Marked in my
shoulder blade.

Curling hard
for a moment-
Her toes.

Her snores
fall softly, turning-
Autumn leaves.

A scent
still sleeps here-
Coconut oil.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Kissing the Sky (For Jimi on his birthday)

How Jimi
spangled our banner-
Star crossed eyes.

Reading Francis Scott Key
(through Jimi’s eyes)

Today, let's examine the most infamous performance of what is probably the most famous political poem in the USA, ‘The Defence of Fort McHenry’. Written in 1814 by a lawyer and amateur poet on a sloop outside of Baltimore Harbor during a naval bombardment of Fort McHenry, the poem was published widely in American newspapers in the days and weeks after the battle. It became famous as a poem but became immortal when re-published by a Baltimore sheet music publisher as a song, under the name ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’ It has always struck me as curious that discussions of ‘Political Poetry’ (by ‘Political Poetry’ I mean poems with socio-political import or concern) seldom mention this poem, despite the fact that its prevalence in American culture is at least a tacit admission of the power of poems to speak to ideas and concepts of deep socio-political impact. Perhaps this is simply due to the fact that people most commonly encounter the poem as a song, and therefore think of it as only such. It was however, conceived, written and originally published as a poem, and the fact that it could be sung to the tune of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven Forever’ (an English drinking song) had to be pointed out the poet by his brother-in-law Judge Joseph Nicholson. (This is not a unique feature of this poem. Metrical poems with a verse and chorus structure are often set to music, or sung to preexisting melodies. Some poems without such a structure share this feature, such as the poems of Emily Dickinson which can almost all be sung to the tune of “The Yellow Rose of Texas’).

Many people think of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ as political only because it is the National Anthem, failing to realize that it became so (in 1931) because of its popularity resulting from its nationalistic political overtones. It would be almost impossible for a poem to have as its central image the national flag, depicted surviving an invasion of the country by a foreign power and for that poem not to be political. Written right after the British had captured Washington, DC and burned the (not yet) White House, the poem was published and re-published because it encapsulated a moment in the battle that could stand as symbolic of the entire young nation in its moment of crisis. That is, that like the battle-scarred flag that remained after the fierce bombardment, the nation would persevere and remain intact and free after winning the war with the British. But, the song became and remained popular (it was commonly sung at the beginnings of baseball games during WW1, before it became the national anthem) because it symbolized something important about the ideals on which the country was founded. That those ideals had to be fiercely fought for, and that the battle for them is ongoing (as the passage of the insidiously named Patriot Act reminds us) and never ending. An assertion of the poem’s fourth stanza that “this be our motto ‘in God is our trust’, is the source of the National Motto “In God we trust” adopted in 1954. This epitomizes the power of poetry to utilize images to communicate with readers in a deeply emotional and powerful manner. The poem has an interesting structure, each of the firs three stanzas opens with a question, and these questions are answered in the fourth stanza. The first stanza, which is the only one most Americans know (if they know it at all) is normally the only one sung, and is itself composed of three questions. Each line ranges from 11 to 13 syllables and overall average about 12 to a line.

O say, can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

The first verse is capable of standing alone as a complete poem or song, which is probably one of the reasons that the others are rarely sung. The fact that the third question of the first verse “O Say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave . . .” is left unanswered at the end gives the song its timeless quality. It also does not hurt that it can be interpreted as two different questions:

1. Does the flag still wave, as in Did it survive the battle ? (Key’s original intent)
2. Does the flag still wave over a free independent country?

The second question can continually be asked in times of crisis, which would explain its rise in popularity during WW1. In fact, in 1916 President Wilson ordered that the song be played on military occasions. Key’s use of a question as a rhetorical device, and use of a central concrete image “the star-spangled banner” as a symbol gives the poem its power. And allows (the first verse at least) to ‘show’ and not ‘tell’ and leave it open to some interpretation thereby avoiding the two most common pitfalls that plague the majority of poorly written political poems. However, as the National Anthem the song has also become a magnet for political protest, particularly by African-Americans who feel that the country might not be achieving the ideals espoused in the poem. The most world renowned of these protests occurred in 1968 during the Olympic games in Mexico City. Two US sprinters, Tommy Smith and John Carlos, winners of the 200 meter dash stood barefoot on the medal podium and during the customary playing of the national anthem of the gold medallist, each lowered their head and simultaneously raised a single black-gloved fist. This silent act of rebellion so enraged IOC and US Olympic officials, that Carlos and John were immediately withdrawn from the upcoming relays, stripped of their medals, barred from the Olympic Village and ordered to leave Mexico City.

Coming, as it did in the summer of ’68 it is entirely possible that this protest inspired Jimi Hendrix to begin playing the “Star-Spangled Banner” during his concerts the following year. Early in ’69 Hendrix played the song first in Stockholm, Sweden and then in Los Angeles, CA. It was however, his performance of the song on the last day of Woodstock that was captured on film and quickly became the most infamous instrumental performance in the song’s history. Hendrix’s brilliant use of the song to protest the expanded bombing (now including Cambodia and Laos) of the ongoing Viet Nam war sears into the senses like an aural burning of the flag. To many conservatives it sounds like a simple-minded desecration of the song by a guitarist in the midst of an LSD-induced rage. A careful and close reader however, cannot help but acknowledge it as pure genius. Hendrix’s particular genius lay in his use of the guitar to play not only music (melodies and harmonies), but also to create sound effects that illustrate the actions depicted by certain lyrics. Jimi’s use of the poem’s words, although never actually spoken may be the most remarkable thing about the entire performance. The key is to recite the lyrics as Jimi plays them. He opens with a bluesy but otherwise straightforward rendition of the song up until the words ‘the rocket’s red glare’, at this point he stops playing the melody and reproduces the sound of an incoming rocket and its explosion and resulting chaos. Another incoming rocket, a second explosion, and then screams and wails of anguish follow this. There is a third incoming rocket and explosion and then from amidst the roar of distorted feedback emerges a single musical phrase, the part of the melody which accompanies the words ‘the bombs bursting in air.’ The isolation of this single phrase makes it clear that this is a deliberate protest to the current bombing of Viet Nam. To eliminate any question about his intent, Hendrix (who served in the US Army in the 101st Airborne) follows the phrase ‘the bombs bursting in air’ with the sound of an air raid siren, then a duplication of roaring jet engines, and then the distinctive and unmistakable whistle of bombs falling through the air and exploding. Unlike the explosions of the earlier rockets, these explosions are much lower and more massive (this was the war that created the phrase ‘carpet-bombing’) and are followed by extended screams and cries of anguish. Hendrix then returns to next the part of the melody that corresponds with the lyrics ‘gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.’ He then delivers his ‘coup de grace’, interpolating almost two bars of the song “Taps.” This is probably the most stunningly creative and apt part of the entire performance, since the song “Taps” was composed by US Army General Daniel Adams Butterfield during the Civil War and is primarily used by the Army for two occasions; the nightly lowering and folding of the Post flag, and at military funerals right after the folding and presentation of the flag. Thus, “Taps” directly connects the US Army, the US flag, nightfall, and death. In fact, the song’s first verse concludes with the words ‘falls the night’, and its third verse concludes ‘Friend, Good Night.’ Hendrix follows this snippet of “Taps” with the third and concluding question of the first verse, ‘Oh Say does that star-spangled banner yet wave’, letting the notes of the word ‘wave’ trail and hang like a flag in a stiff breeze. He then continues with ‘O’er the land of the free’ and here he lets the notes of the word ‘free’ feedback into a high-pitched whistle which then plunges and falls like the earlier bomb sounds. The pun on the word ‘freefall’ is almost certainly intended, since that word is a perfect description of how bombs descend from planes, and Hendrix concludes with ‘and the home of the brave.’ His pause after the word ‘wave’ highlights the fact that the last question is really two different questions, and foregrounds the second of the two questions. Given that the original poem was written after a naval bombardment and that Hendrix’s recital (even though instrumental) foregrounds the poem’s words to protest the US bombing of another country, how could this not be a gorgeous example of political performance poetry?

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Thursday, November 22, 2012


The heat of her hand
between bare shoulder blades-
Winter sunlight.

This summer I passed a half a hundred trips around the sun and have spent some of the ensuing time in reflection. In celebration, here are at least fifty things I've found to be thankful for;

The sliver of sunlight that fell across my face this morning and lifted my eyelashes from sleep.

My mother's encouragement in all my endeavors, even the ones she disagreed with.

My father's insistence on excellence, his attention to detail, his attempts (however unsuccessful) to embrace the awkwardness that was his oldest son.

The thirteen year old boy who kisses me on the forehead and says "Thanks Dad. " for no particular reason.

The twenty-eight of my thirty-two teeth that have stuck it out this long.

The biscuits in the Borgata Buffet at breakfast, the butter that colors their crannies, the syrup that sticks them to my tongue.

All Fifty Shades of Grey (Earl, that is)

For "Kind of Blue" and "A Love Supreme" and notes that always get taken and pondered.

The length of my arms, the strength of my fingers, the seams in my then two year old son's T-Shirt, that day he darted between two parked cars and I caught his collar inches before he reached the street and an oncoming Escalade.

For nipples that know the difference between the soft nap of a sweater and the tenderness of a tongue.

Hershey's Kisses.

Seeing Roberto Clemente round second base and dive headlong into whatever.

Every woman who's ever put up with me for longer than fifty minutes.

Soft hands and softer fingertips.

All the things I've learned (and will learn) from the woman whose eyes dot the punctuation of my poems, and who cares as much about me as I do her (even if she might not admit it)

The rolling hills and rusty bridges of a city that no matter where I currently reside, will always be home.

My cousins Robin and Lason, who are no longer here, but will always be with me.

A once fractured left wrist that aches when the pressure drops and reminds me I'm alive.

For Bruce Grover, Tor De Barros, Daniel Barnes, Kenny Carroll, Brian Gilmore, David Sherman, and Leonard Poulson who helped me learn the value of real and lifelong friendship.

Tongue kisses that curl toes.

The pallet of bricks that collapsed the ceiling above my bed and just missed me sleeping below.

The pancakes at Gilchrist's and the little bottles of syrup from Bread and Butter.

For the chance as a small child to look over my mother's shoulder as she read the Bible and figure out the squiggles.

All the blocks that made me stumble and forced me to learn to climb.

For Licorice, soft and black.

The rumble in the bottom of my baritone.

For my eyes (all four of them).

For the lint trap above my shoulders that doubles as a brain.

For the quirks, twitches and "No napkins Please" that make me sui generis.

For the tiny muscle that tightens and clenches just before I sigh and succumb.

For AC and DC and all the electricity in between.

The perpetual breeze off the ocean that keeps Atlantic City cool.

For the day I'll kiss her, and marrow deep, she'll know.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, November 16, 2012

Two Trains Running (Into each other)

The Kiss

Shuns no shoulders,
queries ears
with quivers of fire.
Yet somehow more flower
than flare,
more tight splice
than splash.
Is the lipping
of the brim of me,
spiced rum
tipping the tongue of me.
Interlocks the fingers
and dilates all diligence
with a hiss from the heart
of  a rabid radiator.
All melting wax to
my stiff wick,
it burns the softest
and most breathless
of all silences,
such glossy velvet now
as it glances,
a moistness that veers
on voluptuous violence.

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Papa was a Rolling Stone (Part 2)

It was the last time I saw him for almost two months. In fact, I had begun to get so worried that I asked B. a pretty DayShift Dealer at Caesars if she had seen him either. She also was starting to get a little worried. Maybe two weeks after I asked B., I stopped past Caesars on my way to Kwi (their noodle bar, which is the best in the city) when I heard a familiar bellowing coming from the 2/5 NL table at the end of the room. I didn't have to look to know who it was, but I looked anyway. And there he was, he looked a little thinner, but otherwise the same. As soon as he saw me, he started yelling. One funny thing is that he's maybe the only person in AC who doesn't call me by any of my names; no Joel, no Pittsburgh, no Renegade. He usually just says Hey or Hey you or sometimes refers to me affectionately as 'Boy'. This time he called me something he had never called me ever before, "Son," as in "Hey Son, come here." I walked over and he gave me a great big bear hug and whispered in my ear "Thank you, thank you so much." It turns out that the night I had seen him he had had a big weekend, in fact he had won over 12k and had it on him in cash when he fell out. But even more importantly, he had gone to the doctor where he found out he had gallstones and that the episodes of pain he was experiencing meant that his condition was potentially life threatening. He doctor recommended surgery immediately and he was just recovering. He asked me if I needed anything, I told him I was just glad he was OK. The Dealer motioned to him that it was his turn to act on a new hand, he turned to the Dealer and said 'Don't be rushing me, I'm talking to my son, he saved my life, least I can do is say thanks." He told me there was no way that he could ever repay me, but if I ever needed anything to just ask. I told him it was cool, I was just glad I could help. He said "If I ever hit the Bad Beat Jackpot, the first thing I'm going to do is give you $1000." I said cool, if I ever hit it , I'll do the same.

Which leads me to my second favorite James memory. It was about six months after James had his operation, back when the Trump Plaza casino next to Caesars had opened a poker room with electronic PokerTek tables. I loved playing there, less rake, no dealer mistakes, faster dealing and thus more hands. I was playing in a tournament there and busted out on one of the worst beats I'd ever taken, where a guy put me all-in on the Turn when he was drawing to one out and then he hit it. I was so disgusted, I left the Plaza and walked over to Caesars, But I only had $400 on me and so I decided to only play 1/2 instead of 2/5. Problem was, it was Saturday night and all the 1/2 tables were full and there was a 30 + person list. They did have a few seats at 2/5 though, the Floorperson told me. I really didn't want to play 2/5 with only one Buy-in and didn't trust myself to be patient enough to only play with two $200 bullets. I walk back to check out the games and there is James complaining at the top of his lungs about a guy who just beat him out of a pot and is now leaving. "Where you going?" he asked "You afraid of me? You better be afraid, you better run if you wanna keep my money." He looked up and saw me "Hey Son." he said "Come on and sit here in this game."
I told him i didn't feel like playing 2/5, but he wasn't trying to hear it.
"Stop being silly and sit down, Son." he told me. I told him I'd wait for a 1/2 seat.  But he wouldn't stop, so after about five minutes, when another player left, I took the 5 seat. James was in the 8 seat at the end of the table and was having trouble seeing. He asked for the 5 seat and I took the 4 instead. To make a long story even longer, it was my Big Blind. I posted and mucked when someone raised. The next hand I posted my Small Blind. The 7 seat raised to $25 and the 10 seat made it $75 to go. I had A4 offsuit and folded, but when James looked at his cards, he hesitated. I knew right away he had a big hand. He looked to his left and then smooth called. It's been said that not all trappers wear furs and I was sure James was trying to trap these guys with his pocket Aces. The flop came AK9 and James checked, the 7 seat bet $90 and the 10 seat raised to $250. James couldn't get all his chips into the pot fast enough. Both remaining players called. The Turn was King and the River a four. James turned out Aces full of Kings, but the 10 seat turned over two black Kings for quad Kings. The Bad Beat Qualifying hand at that time was Aces full of Jacks which meant that James had just hit the BBJ. I checked the TV, the BBJ was 212k, James had just won 106k, the 10 seat had won 53k and the rest of us had won $6,600. I had only been at the table for two hands. James grabbed me as the table exploded with joy. "What just happened?" he asked me. I told him he'd hit the BBJ for over 100k. "Did I hit it?" he asked, over and over again. "Yes James" I kept saying "You hit it." Despite the fact that I'd won over six thousand, he still wanted to give me the thousand he'd promised. I said OK, but I was still going to give him a thousand too. We called it a push. He called me his lucky charm. To be honest, I didn't really care what he called me, as long as he still called me "Son."


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

17 for Sandy

“The wind came back with triple fury, and put out the light for the last time. They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against crude walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

October dawn-
Carpet rolls rise from
Bungalow Park curbs

Sand dune-

halfway plugged in
Flat screen TV

Pathmark lot

every parking space full
Ocean waves

Winds subside-
Red eyes in Venice Park

Gardeners Basin
drying in the tree branches
Receding tide-
Window planters sprout
broken shells

Half the lines in this street
are electric

Half full garage-
Refrigerator sideways
in the water

Wind whistles-

Rocking back and forth
Stop Sign

Shattered window-
Liquor store leaks
in the dark

Boardwalk dark-
"Just Don't Want To Be Lonely"
From casino speakers

between Ballys and Caesars-
Fire hydrant

inches from the ceiling-
Carpet squishy

Planted in yards
on this Brigantine street-
Pieces of seawall

Full moon
Brigantine seawall

High tide -
Brigantine mailboxes
almost full

Brigantine's North End-
Boats in front yards
couches on curbs

And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)

Friday, November 02, 2012

Post-Post Sandy Report

Played (poorly) at Harrahs Philadelphia on Thursday night and got broke. When I went to sleep I saw where AC Mayor Langford had requested that AC be allowed to reopen. Woke up this morning around 11am and saw that Governor Christie had complied with the request. The ride down was uneventful and aside from the roadside debris on the Expressway near AC things looked normal. Inside the city there were signs of storm damage including massive piles of seaweed and marsh grass along the roads near the bay, missing traffic lights and downed light poles along the sides of the roads. We went straight to the storage place, which is right off the bay on the mainland. The automatic gates weren't working due to a lack of power, but they had one gate propped open. As we approached our space I checked the ground for signs of flooding. The whole storage place is built on a small hill or rise about ten feet above the roadway. I saw lines of broken shells along some of the units which indicated some flooding. Our unit is towards the middle and I was heartened by the lack of shells or seaweed in our row of units. I unlocked the unit and held my breath before pulling the door up. If my boxes were still stacked, then I knew things were cool. As the door rose I saw one, two, three levels of boxes, leaning against the wall, but still stacked. My computer was atop a rubber tub in the middle just where I left it. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief, then grabbed my leather Steelers jacket. It's definitely cold enough for my most infamous piece of clothing to make its return.

We headed to the Borgata and got there ten minutes before four PM when they were due to open. The Surface Lot was closed, but the garage was open. The casino looked perfectly fine inside and out. Once inside I noticed that all the restaurants were closed, although the Gift Shop was open. That meant no Starbucks, free or otherwise. One of the benefits of having a deep, sexy voice is that the Starbucks manager has a massive crush on me and gives me my tea for free. But no tea today. By the time I got to the poker room two other players had beaten me there and were sitting around waiting on a game. It was 4:10. There were four dealers on dead spreads waiting to open games. By 4:30 there were two 1/2 NL games and a list for 2/5. By five PM there were three poker games and about fifteen bettors in the Racebook. There was one waitress in each station. The games featured mostly AC poker regulars, but weren't too bad. By nine PM there were ten games going. The Borgata seemed to be the only poker room in town that was open, although I heard that the Taj Mahal also had at least one game. I got a free room from a guy who owed me a favor for writing a letter for him. AC has most of its power back, but none north of New Jersey Ave or so. ACPD was out at dusk in Riot Gear patrolling the darkened sections which included parts of the Inlet, Bungalow Park, and Gardeners Basin. Those sections were hit hard by the flooding, especially the South Inlet and the sections of houses that border the Marina. There are no lights on the Boardwalk between Taj Mahal casino and Caesars. Also no power on Atlantic from Virginia Ave down to the Walk.

I was going to take a haiku walk, but wound up grinding instead. Sandy put a decent sized bite in my bankroll and FEMA won't be supplying me any relief.

As of midnight Borgata has 16 poker games and over 25 tables active in the Main Pit. Baby steps, baby steps.
And until next we meet, may all your potatoes be sweet (and dusted with cinnamon.)