Friday, June 29, 2012

SHUFFLE MACHINE




SHUFFLE MACHINE

Between her fingers, 
fate ruffles like
a thing with feathers, 
two faces riffling,
glossy finished breaths,
each a volume of vortex
arrested and booked under
the Second Law of Thermodynamics,
a coffle of cardboard chaos,
replacing male order,
dovetailing a desire
that cannot be boxed or cut
by sharpest image edges
or a deck’s sexy designs,
Victoria's Secret interlaced.
What's held in
your table-side tank 
of bated breath?
Necks pulse in vain,
throb like traffic lights
on a Saturday night,
hands clean as gloves
on a bourgeois burglar, 
cuffed and cupped,
trembling, riffling the clay
chips lining the edge
of a bet that begs anarchy.
She is your Miss Fortune, 
running fountain of infinity. 
Everybody misses
the river except you. 
Always the kissed banks
swishing the same. 
The pot wants 
to be right,
maybe raised. 
What it gets 
is to be splashed.
More and more under
each undealt door
through which "next" echoes,
there is a rising,
like the soddeness of 
an unseen sea. 
Now her
practiced hands pitch
tomorrow's fate, 
helicoptering across
an oblong table.
The waitress brings
something you crave
as a daffodil doth
of the dew,
(no napkin, please)
says sip this,
her lips are full,
her wrists fragrant,
her heart barred.
I heard a bee buzz, honey
when I tried. 
And if you tip her-
over? Spit, 
she was not 
swallowing anything. 
This aint origami,
(you are not allowed
to fold.)
Who can change
the credit of the cards?
She would of course
simply re-deal
to your empty seat. 
Anyways,
she was only
the Queen of Hearts
peeled like a rind
by randomized hands
and you were never
her suited King kicker.

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

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Who's Your Daddy? (Part 2)




. . . Shaky Steve had told me that SH was back in rehab, this time for 6 months. And even though I know that heroin is a really, really tough drug to kick (second only to Crack Cocaine) I'm hoping that this time he can shake free for good, because he almost did last time. Well, not the last time he was in rehab, but last time he got clean for an extended period. Which was back in 2004 when he was fresh out of prison out West and back in AC for the first time in a long while. A Jewish kid from the Lower East Side of New York City who came of age in the 50s when Jazz was hitting its artistic prime and heroin was the 'cool' drug of choice, he was a teenager sneaking into joints like The Five Spot to see Thelonious Monk or Birdland to see Miles or John Coltrane. And after college he becomes a documentary filmmaker in Cali who marries and has a baby girl. And Cali is (at that time) the only state besides Nevada where poker is legal and so he starts playing (and sometimes cheating) in the clubs there with a bunch of guys (like David Sklansky) who would go on to become legends. But heroin is a heavy monkey to carry on your back and eventually his life collapses and he finds himself in Vegas cheating the slot machines to feed his habit. And he's good, real good at that, so good he hires hookers during the day to act as his lookouts while he 'walks' the reels of the machines into position to deliver jackpots. And he's too good and eventually the casinos make it a priority to nab him and he should have quit, but hubris is a MFer. So he gets busted and does 8 years in the State Pen, which isn't all bad because it forces him to get clean and gives him plenty of time to read, which he had always done plenty of anyway.

So now he's chilling on a bench on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City with some cats he knows from the old days and one of them mentions that No Limit Hold'em is making a comeback and is now being spread in AC. Which perks his ears up because he played in the legendary game at The Mayfair back in the day and held his own and so he goes into the Tropicana Casino to investigate and finds it's all true. They're spreading NL Hold'em, although with a cap on the amount you can buy in for and who ever heard of that? But he's smart enough to realize that the casinos are doing that to slow the rate at which the players go broke (because suckers going broke too fast is what killed the game in the 70s). He's only got $40 to his name, but he bums $20 from three people and Bam! he's in action. And compared to all the young fools who are mostly playing the game for the first time, he's an expert and before the week is out he's up a grand and has rented a little room in the Chelsea neighborhood of AC. He puts in 15 and 18 hour days grinding in these 1/2 NL games and runs good, so good that within a year's time he's banked 50k and has moved to a condo in Brigantine with the Bay as a backyard. And somewhere in there he switches to the wild and crazy games at Caesar's which is where our paths cross on the green felt of a 2/5 NL table. I know right away he's a grinder, but just in case my boy WP comes over from another table to tell me not to give the old guy any action whatsoever without the stone cold nuts. And I'm running the table raising lots of hands and running my mouth raising lots of salient facts and stats about the upcoming NFL season, when he stops me and asks me if I know the etymology of one of the words I just used. And I say sure and run it down and now, it's on. He says the word came into English from Spanish and I say it came in from Portuguese. He asks me if I'm sure and really, when have I never been not sure? I might be wrong, but I aint uncertain. I am after all (unbeknownst to him) The Right Reverend DJ motherfucking Renegade. So he disagrees and asks me if I want to bet, and I know he's trying to hustle me, but he doesn't know that I've been reading dictionaries since 1968 when I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and learned that that was how Malcolm educated himself in prison. So we clarify the terms and I insist on using a Merriam-Webster's Unabridged dictionary to settle the bet and he mentions he has one on his dining room table. So, when we finish playing, me, him and WP go over to his condo to settle the bet. Which I win of course, but I look around and see he's got books everywhere and we start kicking it. WP mentions that I write poems and SH asks me who I read and we discuss the finer points of Komunyakaa and Ginsburg and Wallace Stevens and his favorite poet, John Ashbery (who's work I hate, but whatever). Then we move on to Jazz and he regales us with tales of Monk and Miles and Coltrane from back in the day. And I've been looking for somebody to talk about more than just poker or math or sports and so has he and before you know it, we're fast friends. And he's almost 20 years older than me, almost the same age Gaston Neal would be if he were still alive and fills a hole in my life that's been gaping since Gaston passed. 

And soon he's playing 5/10 NL at the Borgata everyday with a 100k+ bankroll and inviting a small group of grinders over for holidays and big sporting events. Whenever we see each other one of us quotes a line from Shakespeare and the other one has to name the play or poem that it comes from, something that keeps us both sharp and thinking about more than just how to fleece the fish in our poker games. Somewhere along the line we figure out that we both know K, a fine Dominican chick who plays 1/2 NL that I met in the Taj Mahal casino one day playing poker. Like a lot of poker players I can size people up pretty quickly and from the word go, she struck me as a con artist, because her smile was too easy and was way more mouth than eyes. And the primary tool of a con artist is a (too easy) smile. When I first met her, she told me she was in Real Estate and owned a house in Brigantine, only now I come to find out that she's a wannabe grinder who sleeps on SH's couch every night. And who except pathological liars tells these kind of grandiose lies for no reason? He asks me what I think about her play and I tell him IMO she's not a winning player and I can tell by his face that he's not trying to hear that. He tells me she's a good kid and he's helping her work on her game and get better. And somewhere in there it dawns on me that he's putting her in games (loaning her money to play). But it's whatever and life is cool and then I start running bad and can't win no matter how good I get my money in. And SH is there for me, whether it's advice or a listening ear or a loan to help keep me in action and I introduce him to some books by a few pretty cool poets like Jericho Brown and Terrance Hayes and Sean Thomas Dougherty and Reginald Dwayne Betts and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon that he hasn't really heard of. Word around town is that K is now into SH for more than 3k and is steadily losing, but hey he's grown and can loan his money to whomever he wants. And some cats think he's hitting it, and some think she's fleecing him, and I ask him about it, but he just says she's a good kid and will pay him back when she starts winning and really it's just a Father/ Daughter kind of thing. I know how bad he feels about being locked up and strung out for most of his real daughter's childhood, so that makes sense. Then the Showboat's Bad Beat Jackpot gets real high and K is on the table when it hits and gets over 9k. And she skips back to Brigantine and pays him the whole thing and we're hanging out at the Borg when he comes strutting in and telling us how wrong we were for doubting her and watch she's gonna start winning now that she has a decent bankroll. And when he walks away, JS shakes his head and says her paying him off is the worst thing that could've happened and I'm thinking that JS is one cold cynical bastard, but he explains that since SH trusts her so much now she's gonna get him for a number that makes 3k look like chump change. I honestly don't know, I don't trust her as far as I can spit her and never thought she'd square him up the first time. But I know JS has never been wrong on a read before, like that time he was playing 2/5 and a woman I know pretty well was sitting behind her boyfriend. The next day JS tells me that the woman is putting her boyfriend in and I say he's crazy she'd never do that and he just laughs and shakes his head. Then a few days later the boyfriend is playing and busts out and is hanging around and JS says he's waiting for her to get off, so he can get more money to play and I say no way. JS says she'll get off and dude will take her home and knock it off and be back playing in two hours, unless his game is really tight, in which case he'll be back within 45 minutes of her getting off of work. So we bet 50$ and I tell him I'll double it if dude is back before an hour and I'm thinking this is the easiest $50 I'll make all week, only she gets off and 35 minutes later dude is pimping in and pulling up a chair to a 1/2 table. And I'm playing and feel a tap on my shoulder and it's JS with his hand out and I flip him a black chip and he kisses it and says "You're a smart kid Pittsburgh, but you gotta bet with your head, not your heart" And what can I do, but tip my hat to him? Meanwhile, sure enough after a couple of months of losing K's back in SH's pocket and after a few more months the number is north of 3k and climbing like a tropical vine. 

Then the Caesar's BBJ starts approaching 500k and we're all over there trying to hit it and one day  I'm waiting for some moron to call a giant bet on the River (although the whole table knows the bettor has the Nuts) when I see K on the table in front of me and her eyes light up like the night before Christmas, I mean sweeter than a box of Twinkies and I turn to see who she's looking at and it's AD, a middle-aged Persian woman who is a Floor Person at Caesar's. And AD blushes and smiles and turns away and I know that look (because I've put it on a few women's faces) and I realize that not only are they an item, but K must have made AD hit all the high notes in the aria because AD beams every time she passes her table. And the next thing you know K is playing 2/5 after months of not being able to beat the smaller, easier 1/2 games and even Helen Keller can see that she's getting new money from somewhere. I see SH and I say, hey it looks like your girl is macking AD and he says they're just friends and maybe AD loaned her a buy-in or something, but it's no big deal. And I say SH, let's be real here, AD is a divorcee on the wrong side of 50 from a strict Muslim culture who might have never had a man make her elevator go to the top floor in her whole life, let alone hold her and talk to her when he finished. And I've long known that K likes flipping straight girls (I aint mad at her, I love watching her flirt, TBH). Do the math I say, K puts her tongue on the right button and AD's ATM is gonna start shooting out bills like fireworks on the Fourth of July. But he says it aint like that, she's a good kid who means well and more of a daughter to him almost than his real daughter. I roll my eyes and roll out, but it's clear to me that SH has got a pretty big blind spot where K is concerned, but whatever, he's streetwise enough that he should be alright. Then I tell WP about what I saw with K and AD and he tells me he loaned K $1500 and I'm like "Are you serious?" He says he's not too worried, she payed SH back and I'm like dude she's in his pockets real deep now and he nods and says she told him it's almost 10K. And I'm like WTF?? and you still loaned her cheese? And he's like yeah, I say well, you better hope you can get her to "work it off" because she aint paying you back. But WP aint no dummy either, so he corners K after she has a big win and reads her the Riot Act and she knocks a little off the top of what she owes him. So now K is playing 2/5 eveyday only she can't beat the game because she thinks every dude is trying to bluff her and she never folds, especially not to the big bets. But she doesn't seem to be having any problems buying back in. Then one night, one of AD's coworkers asks me what I think of K and I say why? And she tells me that she thinks something isn't right about their relationship and she tried to talk to AD about it, but AD turned on her and told her to mind her own business. I say straight up, if AD is getting macked as good as I think she is, then she isn't going to want to listen to anybody who says anything bad about K, because as far as she's concerned K is the best thing that's ever happened to her. And her friend looks like she wants to cry and asks what she can do and I say nothing, you can't save someone from themselves, all you can do is what you did, tell them the truth and hope they'll be able to hear it at some point. And now K is getting crushed everyday and still not fazed by it and AD is floating around the room like she's wearing levitation shoes. But she aint made out of money and after a few months (when the thrill is wearing off a little) the feces hits the fan. AD tells K maybe she should go back to 1/2 and K aint trying to hear that and she's in AD's purse real deep now, past 7k and how else can she make enough to pay her back if she starts playing smaller? The truest test of whether someone's getting macked is what happens when they cut off the money and the gifts. AD cuts her back a little and K isn't happy about it at all. Well, push comes to shove and K quits her and AD is walking around looking like she got her heart cut out with a rusty pair of paper scissors. The truth is that K will probably never be a winning player because like most con artists she doesn't have the patience that it takes to win at poker in the long run. Sure she can hit some quick scores, but it's all about the short term for her.  Poker is a long grind and she's more about hitting and quitting and moving on to the next victim. And after about a month AD quits her job and leaves Atlantic City. And I run into SH and he tells me K called him and said she had to go back to Florida because her father is sick and I'm thinking she aint coming back no time soon, but SH says she'll be back. In the meantime SH is running bad in the 5/10 game and feeling lonely and depressed, because it seems like we're all running bad at the same time. 

And I come over one day to help him with his computer and who do I see sleeping on his couch, but QH a real pretty Vietnamese chick was has a reputation around the poker room for being a degenerate Blackjack player and a losing poker player and a chip hoe (albeit a very expensive one). And SH tells me she's been down on her luck lately and he's just helping her out a little and in my head I'm saying here we go again. Only it's worse than I even know because he's putting her in tournaments every day, plus putting her in the cash games. And a week later he asks me what I think of her and I say without hesitation "She's a chip hoe, a very fine, very expensive chip hoe, but she'll bang anybody for a big enough Buy-In." And he says, hey nobody's perfect but that I'm being too hard on her. And what can I say that he'll be able to hear? Nothing. So, for once in my life I shut the fuck up and save myself some sentences. And I've got to give it to QH, she's real fucking good at what she does, calling him Daddy and doting on him like an ideal daughter. And what sixty year old man wouldn't want that kind of attention from a pretty young girl? Only SH is losing now and his bankroll is south of 70k and falling like heavy snow. And we all try to warn him, WP and JS and others, but it's like we're speaking Klingon, and JS says "Dude, at least tell us you're pulling her hair while hitting it from the back" but SH tells us we've got it all wrong with her, she's a good kid who just needs a little guidance. Six months go by and I'm coming over one day to kick it for a few and I overhear him and her through the door. And maybe I should've knocked and interrupted them, but I don't, I stand there and listen through the door. And he's telling her he's gonna have to just limit her to tournaments now because they're past 35k and she's not winning, but he has faith in her that she'll hit something soon. And I just back away and walk across the bridge from Brigantine to Harrahs in a light rain wondering how a guy that erudite and street smart could get into a hole that deep. But I know too, that if someone is in a relationship, any kind of relationship that validates them on a deep level they will put up with all types of nonsense and maybe even think it's nothing but an even trade, because they're getting something they consider invaluable in return. I get to the Poker Room and see WP and he tells me he's been trying to get SH to play a little lower for a while to preserve his bankroll, but that SH won't even consider it and then that weekend the unthinkable happens. Word gets out that SH was playing and evidently crunching Roxies like they were Penny Candy and went on tilt and donked off 20k in one 39 hour session. They said he was delirious and kept buying back in for 1k and shipping it with Top Pair at the slightest provocation, until finally a guy who knows him grabbed him and pulled him off the game and drove him home, which pissed off the entire table. I see SH a few days later and he doesn't even remember what happened and I ask him if it's true about the Roxies and he looks down and starts mumbling. And I'm like dude, Roxies are opiates and mad addictive and if you used to have a heroin problem, they're super evil. And he nods and says he'll quit taking them, he only had them because his back was acting up and QH copped a few from a friend for him to relieve the pain. And we both know he's lying and I call him on it and he says he's gonna quit no matter what. And I tell him QH is an anchor that's going to drag him straight to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, but he just tells me I'm too hard on her, that's not her fault, she just never had a father in her life, but he's grown and should know better.

Then a week later JS tells me he saw SH in the RaceBook talking to a notorious Mob loan shark and I'm legit scared, only SH tells me the guy is an old friend and he just needs a little cushion so he can play comfortably. But he's still putting QH in every day and she's still losing, because even if she wins in the poker room, she goes out and dumps it on the Blackjack tables. I know things are really bad when a week later SH asks me for $500 I owe him, something he's never done. I have sterling credit and pay everybody as soon as I can whenever I owe, so folk don't generally ask me for their money because they know if I've got it, I'll find them and square them up. But by the look on his face I know he needs it, so even though I'm only holding $800 I pay him off. He apologizes and tells me he's a month behind on his rent and is wondering how far he can get behind before they can evict him. I tell him he needs to get rid of QH, but he aint trying to hear that, he tells me he'll start winning and it'll all be OK. Later on I see JS and he tells me that SH is done, his goose is cooked, it's only a matter of time, because he won't listen to nobody. And yeah, JS is a cold blooded lizard, but when was he ever wrong? And the next thing I know SH is playing 2/5 at the Taj because he has too much pride to play smaller at the Borgata, but he's losing real bad now smells like sharkbait at the table and is hanging out in the Racebook to boot which can't be good. And the kicker comes when one day QH hits a Borgata tournament for 35k and we go get SH and tell him to go over to the Borgata and get his money and he says don't worry, she's a good kid, she'll find me, only two days go by and she doesn't, so we go over there and she's playing 5/10 and I tell her SH needs to talk to her and she gives me the evilest look since Eve told Adam she bit the apple and to make a longstory short she gives SH some BS and 3k and says it's the best she can do. And the next time I see SH he's playing 1/2 and falling asleep at the table and then I realize he's nodding and I hope against hope it isn't what I think it is, but sure enough his right hand slides up his left arm and slowly, slowly starts scratching. And if you've never been around heroin addicts that might not mean anything to you, but it seems like all of my daddies have pushed a hypodermic plunger and I know what color this scene in the movie fades to. I go back to my seat and pull out my Shure E-535 earphones, spark up my iPod til the silky smoke of Sade's voice rises and curls around my head, asking, "Is it a crime, that I still love you . . . ?"

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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Who's Your Daddy? (Part 1)




Last weekend Phish played Bader Field in Atlantic City for three days, which meant pretty much every hotel room in the city was either booked or going for an extra exorbitant rate. So, like the speaker in my poem 'The Bukowski in You,' on the morning of Father's Day I found myself in a $49 Motel room way out on Route 30. Now before you even get started let me make it perfectly clear that I don't give a fuck about Father's Day and never have really. It's a fake ass Hallmark holiday invented to separate sappy fools from their money. I'll say "Happy Father's Day" to cats I know are dads because it might mean something to them, but it makes me no real difference. I have a son and I know he loves me, I see evidence of that love every time we're together, so just like I don't need anyone to remind me that I'm 6'4" one special day a year, I don't need anyone to remind me that my son loves me. Like most kids, he goes through the motions on these days and sends me an email or this year a text message. And I'm good with that. But then Reuben Jackson (a fine and criminally under known poet) posts the video for Luther's "Dance With My Father Again" on his FaceBook Page and I know right away that as much as I love that song, I can't watch it because it always makes me cry. If you've read any reasonable amount of my poems you know I've got Daddy issues from my (shall we say 'difficult') relationship with my Father. From 'El Magnifico' to 'Saturday Poem' to 'Father, Son and the Wholly Ghost' it's all there in the work. Really it's just another form of unrequited desire, the desire to be loved by my father the way I saw other kids loved by theirs. But he's gone now, ashes spread onto the North Shore of the Allegheny River near downtown Pittsburgh. So I "Like" the video, but don't watch it. And then my iPod Touch starts flashing and telling me I missed a call and I check it out and it's from my son. Who has never called me on Father's Day ever, (mostly because I don't have a phone). So, I call him back and we chat and I miss him and he misses me and really wants to know when I'm coming to see him only I can't say exactly, it depends on how I run during the week if I can afford to miss the big money on the weekend to go to DC. Which I used to do, every weekend, until the economy went into the tank and I ran bad and lost a huge chunk of my bankroll. But we digress. And he starts getting emotional which means like most 12 year old boys he shuts down and says he has to go and I thank him for calling and let him go. And wonder if I'm starting to turn into my Father, which would be really, really fucked up. But then I look up and ESPN is showing clips of sports related to Father's Day and before I can avert my gaze there's Derek Redmond in the blue and white of Great Britain coming out of the Starting Gate to run the 400 meters where he's a contender to win a gold medal. And I saw this race live on TV when it happened, so I know what's coming, and even though Jesus, Allah and Buddha know I really don't need to see this right now, it doesn't matter sometimes, does it? And although I prefer that he not, just this once, Redmond rounds the first turn and then tears his hamstring, and by 'tears' I mean completely shreds, which means he falls down on the track like someone just shot him in the back of his leg and kneels in an incalculable amount of pain until the track officials come over to see if he needs medical assistance. Only what happens next is one of those amazing moments that can make it almost impossible to breathe when you see it. Redmond has spent the last four years of his life training for this race and no, he can't win it, the others are 50 meters ahead and disappearing rapidly, but he'll be damned if he's going to let a minor detail like a completely torn hamstring stop him from finishing his journey. So he pops up on one leg and starts hopping around the track like the most courageous kangaroo you've ever seen and the Olympic officials try to stop him, but he pushes them away and keeps hopping because there's still 300 meters to go. And all of this is enough to make even the most shriveled cynical bastard believe in something, but then the unthinkable happens. Redmond's dad jumps the railing from the stands and runs out onto the track and embraces his son, who puts his arm around him and together they walk the remaining distance to the finish line. And yeah, his dad helping him instantly disqualifies him, but really, who cares? And it's all a bit much and maybe just once in my life I would have liked for something like that to have happened to me and my dad and suddenly the city opens all the hydrants at once, or the Hoover Dam breaks or a surprise summer thunderstorm dumps several inches of torrential rain. I'm not going to sit here and say I curled up in a fetal ball and howled like a hurricane, (but I won't deny it either). And when I finished wiping all the snot out of my mustache, I cheered myself up by thinking about Terrance Hayes' poem about all of his daddies which made me think of all the other older guys who have been surrogate father figures in my life the last 20 years, like Gaston Neal and Cornbread James and S.H. And I remember that . . . (to be continued)

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Out of the Foundry



The other day I was checking in to the Borgata Casino and I found a $100 bill on the ground next to my foot. I took my time, but I bent down and picked it up. That was my third time finding money or chips in a casino. I have lost so many things at the Borgata that the security guards at the Lost and Found know me by name. I've lost Tempur Pedic pillows and contact lenses, iPods and Steelers jackets, even lost my Passport once. When I went to claim it, the guard asked me for ID, he didn't appear to be joking either. Almost all of the things I lost turned up, (except that pillow) but it didn't much matter as I'm not generally attached to material things, unless I'm obsessed with them, like I was with Tombo Super Pens for about 15 years. Until I lost my last one on the Jitney. The only thing I've ever lost that I regret not getting back was an opportunity. There was this telemarketer that called my house one night about 25 years ago while I was watching a baseball game. I gave her my usual telemarketer treatment, which is to respond with random non-sequiturs and assorted lines of poetry. They'd ask if I was interested in Time-Life's new books on the Viet Nam War and I'd say it all depends on how many pictures of purple giraffes there were on their desk, when they respond in confusion (which they usually did) I'd recite some line from Shakespeare or Gwendolyn Brooks or one of my own poems and after a few exchanges like this they would inevitably give up in frustration and let me go back to whatever I was doing. But one night this woman wasn't fazed, she asked was I interested, I told her I'd have to ask the green dwarf at the end of the hall, she told me to hurry up because she had to pee, when she asked me what he said, I replied "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun," she asked me if his hair was black wires, when I said "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight", she told me not to go gently into that good night. At some point we both busted out laughing, it turned out that she was pretty well read and very, very quick. She had met her sales quota for the night, but she had to stay on the phone for another 40 minutes to look busy, so we talked, for an hour. The next night she called me back around the same time and we kicked it, this went on for about 2 months and eventually we agreed to meet. She lived and worked outside of Baltimore and as it turned out worked with some guys who knew of me (I was a pretty well known DJ at the time), she decided to come spend a weekend and I sent her a train ticket. On the last night before she was to come, at the end of our usual conversation I asked her to put one of the guys she worked with on the phone and I asked him what she looked like, he repeated the question out loud. Stupid, stupid poet. She snatched the phone out of his hand and started screaming at me "I can't believe you did that, I was all prepared to love you, no matter what, I was all prepared to love you. I thought you were different, but you're just like the rest of them" I tried to make amends, but she wasn't having it. As I found out later, she was drop dead gorgeous and for her whole life men had judged her and valued her based on her looks, I on the other hand had never seen her and yet clearly dug her based on who she was. Until I asked that question. She never came. I found out years later that my cousin Kevin was a mutual friend of the guys she worked with and that she had married the dude I had asked the question to. I always wonder what my life would have been like had I not suffered that one moment of insecurity (well, stupidity and insecurity combined). Paradise Lost? Perhaps. it took me a long time to get past that, to find some peace with what I'd done. Over the years I've found many, many things that I still have, one of them is a medallion in the shape of Africa I found on the subway in DC, another is a sense of myself as a survivor, an understanding that whatever happens can be a lesson. I also try to find (and celebrate) beauty everywhere I can, whether it be architecture, dance, music, sculpture, naked super models wearing only body paint, whatever. Aren't we all just the sum of all the things that we find? I am obviously very sensitive to beauty in language and listen for poetry in everyday speech, everywhere I go. I also look for it in everything I read, and sometimes I even find it. I give myself a writing (well, really revising) exercise, where I look for 'found poems' in everything I read. The rules are simple, you take an original text and can only delete words, you can't add anything, although you can change the ending of a word to keep it grammatically correct. Sometimes I post these poems here on my blog like this one, which caught my attention because to me 'Bertholletia' sounds like one of those old time southern women's names. I could just see Bertholletia in a fancy hat, fanning herself in church on Sunday while the preacher railed against the latest wickedness. I often will make poems out of my friends Facebook postings and leave them in the Comments. Every once in a while the poems I find are even worth keeping. If nothing else it's a great exercise to keep one's revision skills sharp. If you teach kids or beginning writers this is a great exercise to get them to revise, since they often don't think that their own poems are in need of any such thing. Here then is the latest poem (title is link to the source material) that I've found.

Found Poem


Throughout
collected stones
and crystals,
black onyx.
Between Goth and Grunge,
the color of the stone
appealed. Black onyx,
the devil’s stone.
Healing and
defensive properties,
but also
sexual impulse.
I equated
to an impulse.
In a religious household,
you wake up and pray,
pray about the bathwater
before you bathe.
Pray the water clean.
my onyx wasn’t working,
I buried it
beneath an aspen tree.
Beneath the borrowed
full moon,
for a full week,
to neutralize
and cleanse it.
I buried the devil,
and then
I dug him.

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

Friday, June 15, 2012

Using the Muse



There's a wee bit of controversy in England over a recent proposal by Education Secretary  Michael Gove to make the memorization and recital of poems a mandatory part of an overhaul of Elementary school education. No, seriously. There are actually people who are against this for various reasons, some are against 'rote learning' and others think it will be humiliating for the kids. Never mind the fact that memorizing a poem is very different from memorizing facts or figures, or that fear of public speaking is the most common fear (and public recitals can help one to overcome this), studies show conclusively that people who memorize poems are 57% sexier to the opposite sex. OK, maybe they don't, but they just ought to. For real? Is this where we are as a civilization? Learning poems by Shakespeare, Milton, Gwendolyn Brooks, or Langston Hughes is a bad thing? Where people are against having kids memorize poems? Despite the fact that studies actually do show that memorization improves ones working memory and that leads to higher fluid intelligence and greater problem solving skills? And that gains made in this area by small children tend to stay with them throughout life? (Yes, I'm saying that having kids memorize poems makes them smarter, in a quantifiable way) Not to mention giving them a greater appreciation for good writing? And significantly improving their cultural literacy? This article in Salon looks at the issue and sheds some light (and reason) on the subject. When I was teaching creative writing I made it a point to have my students learn at least one poem that they didn't write, by heart. Not just because I wanted them to know a poem, but because the best way to really dig a poem is to learn it inside and out. Not to mention that you can't be a great writer without exposure to great literature (and this is true of all art forms) and the more exposure the better. The more we learn about the ways we learn, the more we learn that this is true. A poem known by heart can also work as a litany, or prayer, something you swing like a sword to ward off stress or even to spark a moment of meditation. I learned by accident that reciting "Love Song" by Henry Dumas helped me to deal with awkward post-coital silence, and made women fondly remember me years later as "that goofy guy who was clumsy at sex but recited a really lovely poem for me and made my day", not that I learned it for that reason. You'd be amazed at how many situations can be made better by just adding a recited poem, is a panhandler accosting you on the street? No problem, hit them with a few lines of Emily Dickinson [I heard a fly buzz when I died . . . ], is a paranoid schizo ranting at you on the subway? Try some Dylan Thomas [Do not go gently into that good night], awkward moment on a date? Shakespeare to the rescue [Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?] Can't remember the play in the huddle? Try some Claude McKay [If we must die . . . ] Kid need some advice? Gwendolyn Brooks [We real cool]. I guarantee you, it works every time, mostly. The truth is that participation in various art forms, whatever the art form, makes us all not only smarter, but gives us a greater appreciation for beauty and therefore for life itself. And that can't possibly be a bad thing. So help make the world a better place, learn a poem by heart today, it doesn't have to be long or deep, (or even one of mine), but you'll be surprised at how much better your cereal will taste in the morning because of it (OK, maybe not). Personally, I think we should all learn at least five poems by heart, including one happy poem, one sexy poem (whatever that means to you), one sad poem, one really beautiful poem and one poem that you don't fully understand, but would like to. Try it, you might like it.

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

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

UNCUFFING THE 'TORTURED ARTIST'



According to this article, scientists are moving closer to understanding the links between certain mental illnesses and creativity. That Schizophrenia and Bi-Polar illness are more common among writers and poets has been pretty well established for a while. Kay Jamison who both studies and suffers from Manic-depressive Illness, has written several books including 'Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament'. The list of writers who have famously committed suicide is long (and severely depressing in its own right). Interestingly enough, poetry is the only art form where scientists can't tell the output of a healthy person from one with schizophrenia. This is in part because the same kinds of tangential word associations that are common in the writing of paranoid schizophrenics are also common in many types of poetry, but most especially in so-called 'Experimental Poetries' such as Language or Elliptical poetry. The big difference is that healthy people know that their metaphors and puns are just that, metaphors and puns, while the schizophrenic insists that they must be understood literally. The mad scientist is a common cultural trope, one that was very commonly used during Cold War cartoons for children in fact. Now there's evidence that many high achieving scientists and mathematicians may in fact be (at least slightly) mad. I still can't figure out if this is good news or bad. One the one hand it confirms something many have suspected for a long time. On the other hand, what's being confirmed is a stereotype that isn't always helpful. Creative people have always been given a lot of leeway to be 'quirky' which is sometimes just enough latitude to function in 'normal' society and sometimes enables mental illness to go undetected and/or treated. I call it the "Pet Unicorn Theory" since unicorns are amazing and mythic and must be treated special or they'll jump the fence. There is no question that the mania I experience when I am highly obsessed with something is a drug-like high that allows me to be much more prolific and creative. I recently pulled out a poem I had written for my favorite 'tortured artist' Edgar Allan Poe, and was revising it, trying to make it work by appearing to border on madness and yet still make sense. In its current form it looks like this;

TOO POE

Melon call ya-
seams such suite
Tsar roe

and is nothing more than the sentence "Melancholia seems such sweet sorrow." enjambed like a haiku and written in all homophonic puns, a riff off of Shakespeare (parting is such sweet sorrow) and a nod to Poe's famous bouts with depression. 'The Raven' is my favorite poem, hands down. Like him I find myself drawn to art that is both profoundly sad and beautiful, especially music. Whether it's Coltrane's 'Lonnie's Lament ' or 'Alabama' or Rodrigo's 'Concierto de Aranjuez' or Sinead O'Connor's version of 'Nothing Compares to You', melancholy beauty does it for me like nothing else. This poem by Catherine Wing has become a recent obsession to the point where I walk around reciting it to myself;


The Darker Sooner

Then came the darker sooner,
came the later lower.
We were no longer a sweeter-here
happily-ever-after. We were after ever.
We were farther and further.
More was the word we used for harder.
Lost was our standard-bearer.
Our gods were fallen faster,
and fallen larger.
The day was duller, duller
was disaster. Our charge was error.
Instead of leader we had louder,
instead of lover, never. And over this river
broke the winter’s black weather.


Methinks Poe would have been proud to have called this his own (Robert Johnson too). The music, the rhythm, the way the Blues suffuses every line, every word is mesmerizing to me. And yet, I'm a very happy person. I certainly don't walk around depressed all the time (black attire notwithstanding). But the playlist I listen to most often on my iPod is called 'Top 25 Songs of Heartbreak'. I practically worship the current 'Queen of Melancholy Beauty' Sade Adu. What's up with that? Maybe I'm immunizing myself to depression by wading in its dark shimmery waters. I think we'll keep that as our standard explanation for now. One thing I do know is that creating (in whatever art form) helps to keep me sane (to the extent that I can claim to be) and there have been many very talented artists for whom it was simply not enough, including my father and famously Sylvia Plath and Charlie Parker. I count myself very lucky in that regard. Here is a poem I wrote about Bird's famous struggle with addiction and mental illness;

ALGORITHM OF THE BLUES

Ornithology revolves the room
at 33 1/3 RPMs.
Charlie Parker solos
from the basement of a mood.
Bird puts a hurting on each note,
flattening them like bottle caps
under the steel heel of his hunger.
Slivers of wind slice through his lungs,
invite our hearts to hear how
the Blues can make pain a Philosophy.
Birds understand the futility of words,
that's why Charlie's tone
is Testimony,
translating complicated phrases.
Bird finds a phrase and fractures it,
sharpens a splintered note into a needle,
and plunges it into
the bulging vein of his need.
Parker's pain is hypodermic.
Bird is a junkie people laugh,
drowning in a bubbling spoon,
but is the song over?
Yardbird invites the heart
to hear how the Blues
can make laughter a Philosophy.
He blows a light-blue melody
unexpected as ketchup on corn flakes,
loops a line of funny chords,
threads a silken solo
through the I of his need,
trying to phrase a fluid tune
so it solidifies into a salve.
His hunger still bubbles
(smack on a spoon).
The horn keeps making its case
to solve his cerulean mood.
But the needle
is in a spiraling groove:
and there’s
twelve bars
welded across every door
out of the basement
of the Blues . . .


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

Friday, June 08, 2012

ACCEPTING "The Change"



In 2003 in a book called 'What Narcissism Means to Me', the poet Tony Hoagland included a poem called "The Change" that caused quite a stir at the 2011 AWP National Convention due to a plethora of racist imagery employed by the speaker in the poem. The poet Claudia Rankine read an Open Letter to Hoagland that expressed the feelings of many about the poem and Hoagland penned a response. The gist of Hoagland's response was boiled down to "it's a poem for white people." To say that there was a firestorm of controversy would be an understatement. A call went out for folk to respond to Rankine's 'Open Letter' and many poets (most of whom I know and respect) provided responses that can be read here. Unlike them I did not provide a response, partly because I'm a lazy bastard and partly because I felt there was far more heat than light being sparked. I had read the poem when the book came out and like many others was initially upset at the way the female tennis player Vondella Aphrodite (a stand in for Venus Williams) was portrayed. The speaker says, for example;
pitted against that big black girl from Alabama,
cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms,
some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite—

and later;

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation
down Abraham Lincoln's throat,
like she wasn't asking anyone's permission.
 It is very clear that the speaker is trafficking in racial stereotypes in pitting a "European blonde" against a black girl described thusly. But the question that immediately sprung to mind for me was why? Why would Hoagland deliberately use such language? So I finished reading the poem to see to what end this imagery was being employed. And, Lo and behold there at the end of the poem the speaker declaims;

And the little pink judge
had to climb up on a box
to put the ribbon on her neck,
still managing to smile into the camera flash,
even though everything was changing
and in fact, everything had already changed—
Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone,
we were there,
and when we went to put it back where it belonged,
it was past us
and we were changed.

As soon as I got to the end I realized what Hoagland had done. When I went back up and re-read the poem's title, it was very clear. It is the literary equivalent of Lucy pulling the football out from under the foot of Charlie Brown. "Bait and Switch" if you will, because the poem uses said imagery to pull in readers who might agree with that type of rhetoric and then comes to the one conclusion that they least want to hear. If one understands nothing else about the idea of White Supremacy, they should understand that it is about creating, maintaining and defending a position of privilege, of power. Rush Limbaugh has made hundreds of millions of dollars by creating the specter of such privilege being lost and then defending said privilege on his radio show. But Hoagland's poem comes to the exact opposite conclusion, asserting not only that things are changing, but more importantly, that they have already changed, and furthermore

"when we went to put it back where it belonged, /

it was past us . . .".

In other words, despite the fact that Hoagland's speaker is a (or was) a believer in the white supremacist stereotypes, he recognizes that Limbaugh's battle is futile and useless, nothing more than one man pissing into a very strong headwind. And (at poem's end) he accepts this change and appears ready to move on. This change of heart is not to be taken lightly, it is in fact a very powerful example that Hoagland's speaker is setting. Positions of power are not things that are given up lightly, if at all. Human males will notoriously employ extreme amounts of violence to protect and maintain their perceived place in the social hierarchy. "Acting uppity" or "not knowing your place" were, (for most of this country's history) capital crimes for people of African descent. If there is a valid criticism of the poem, it is that it suffers from not truly earning its epiphany. That is, the poem asserts (quite declaratively) that things have changed and the Speaker (and others) have been changed also, but it never demonstrates how this change came about or how the Speaker came to recognize and accept this change. The Speaker's conversion appears too easily achieved. We can debate whether or not "The Change" is a good poem, we can debate whether or not it will be effective in the real world, but in my opinion, there is no debate about whether or not this poem serves the interests of racists or white supremacists. It does not, it tells them very clearly that their sentiments are part of a time gone by that can never be restored. The real test would be to take the poem to a Klan rally or other assemblage of believers in white supremacy and read it. I'd bet a thousand boxes of powdered mini doughnuts that whoever would do so, doesn't get out alive. This poem ends by asserting exactly what they are fighting against. And it does so in a very sneaky way that hits like a sucker punch to the solar plexus.

So why were so many people upset? Why the outrage? I think the reason is simple, people read the poem to somewhere in the vicinity of line 30 and then they just shut their brains down and become deaf to everything that follows. This has to be the case, because (although I've never met her) by all accounts Claudia Rankine is an extremely bright woman, her reaction to the poem is articulated with great precision and power. But it is (in my opinion) a knee jerk emotional reaction based on personalizing the poem and one that (again in my opinion) doesn't read the entire poem in an honest and accurate manner. When Hoagland says that the poem is "for White people" he isn't being glib or dodging criticism or hiding behing white privilege, he's simply telling the honest unvarnished truth. This poem will do its best work amongst those who buy into what the speaker is selling in the poem's first half. It may be possible that the bulk of this poem's intended audience will never read it, especially given that Limbaugh's demographic isn't known for their consumption of contemporary poetry, but I do feel that the poem does real needed work in the world. If you don't ascribe to the worldview of the speaker in the poem's beginning, then the sucker punch quality of the poem may be lost on you. Maybe Hoagland wrote a bad poem that will ultimately fail to make any impact whatsoever, but I don't think we can fault him for making a courageous attempt. Regardless of how it makes you feel,  the poem unquestionably addresses this country's racial complexity. And that's just the way it is. 

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

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

PAPA'S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG



In an earlier post, I brought up the idea of organic forms, that is forms of poems that are invented by the poet themselves. Today I'd like to formally introduce a new form I've been playing with for the last couple of years. But before I get to that I'd like to discuss an obscure form that it is a variant of; the Quotilla. Evie Shockley is the first poet I can remember seeing use this form. The basic idea of the Quotilla is simple, you take a quote like "The text for today is early Miles, the Columbia years, that tone pared down to essentials" (from Sekou Sundiata's poem 'Open Heart') and write it down the left hand margin, as such;

The
text
for
today
is
early
Miles . . .

And so on, then you use each word as the starting point for a new line, like this;


IN A SILENT WAY

The code eludes all but tillers of
text, a secret not simple
for deciphering. Because
today, an undertone
Is dismissed too
early, too easily. Although
miles separate the source of
the river from the sea, hasn't the
Columbia called for
years in undercurrents? And doesn't
that same submerged
tone still guide salmon
pared almost
down to skeleton and skin
to home, with the sparest of
essentials, subtext?

Here the first word of each line is bolded so the structure is more visible, in actuality I never give any hints about the first words. I have written quite a few poems in this form, most of them like the above example are mediocre, the one I consider most successful can be found here For John. One slightly better example is this one which uses the line "I can't stand the rain against my window" from the song by Ann Peebles (also covered by Tina Turner);

FOUR VARIATIONS ON A THEME
( for Joelito)

I hold you in one arm,
can't find anything else to pack.
"Stand still, Daddy" you beg,
the words falling faster than
rain rushing down the gutters, racing
against everything that falls,
my reign in this house included. The
window frames the sullen clouds.

I know what the clock says, and
can't solve what still
stands between me and
the woman you call Mommy.
Rain drums its cold fingers
against the heads of houses. Outside,
my parking meter has expired, the
window filled by a bright red flag.

I set your two years down slowly,
can't carry you any longer.
"Stand by the windowsill,"
the door groans to you as it closes.
Rain rumbles, flashes a dagger
against the dark sky, you,
my only child, want to run past the
window, to my arms bulging with boxes.

I reach the van, turn a last time,
can't believe how you
stand so still as I close
the door. A fine curtain of
rain falls, refusing restrictions
against its wishes, animates your arms,
my hands. From opposite sides of each
window we wave, faces dripping.



One more example, this one riffing off of the famous lines from T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland";

A Solo for LaSon
for LaSon C. White (1961-2007)

April sprouts around us,
is the sky as sullen there?
The hour after we talked was
cruelest, most raw. In less than a
month, your doctor says
breeding cells will overwhelm you.
Lilacs bloom here as there, just
out the door. Purple hints
of all the Prince songs we've shared.
The plentiful petals are
dead certain to flutter around,
land and decorate your walkway.

April's sibilant drizzle
is like a ride cymbal, mocking
the insistent rhythm of memories,
cruelest at dusk. What other
month would dream of
breeding, then watering these
lilacs purple as bruises?
Out of the incessant rhythm
of the rain's thin fingers,
the melody of a woman's voice
dead on key, singing Adore,
lands on my quivering ears.

April winds wane,
is that the phone ringing amid
the backscatter of the evening news?
Cruelest is the quiet after the call.
Month after month will sprout,
breeding a peace soothing as those
lilacs you loved so much. But right now,
out on the horizon, the purple song
of the setting sun is
the last hope I have, of being
dead silent and hearing your voice in the
land of the living.



It won't take one long to realize that while the form is somewhat interesting, it can often leave the poet with weird line breaks that can result in poor enjambment. So, I decided to take it one step further, what if you wrote the poem in the Quotilla form and then re-enjambed the poem in the manner that makes the most sense for the poem? The seminal quote would now not be visible, but would still 'haunt' the poem audibly. I started calling these experiments 'Bebop Solos' and have since written at least 20 of them, such as this one built off the line "Even if what she sang was what she heard, Since what she sang was uttered word by word." from Wallace Stevens' "The Idea of Order at Key West." My poem is dedicated to the Cape Verdean singer Cesaria Evora;

SEASCAPE WITH VESSEL
(For Cesaria)
 
Her voice
calls in currents,
her melody washing
like incoming waves.
Medleyed
with a moving sun,
her aria tracks
the heart's arc.
As all that would rise
fear what falling may follow,
she is careful,
sings of descent first,
is cautious with what
she allows to be heard
in the harmony.
She knows the sea
and the Song of Salt
are composed
in the same key,
but still chooses
to bathe in what
the tide utters
in the interim,
word
by rising
word.
 
Her voice
is more searchlight
than song, splashes the dunes
with waves of something
wilder than water.
Her lyrics are a people's sighs
medleyed with moonlight,
a geyser like whales exhaling.
Since tears also shine,
what saline circles
she's tasted, sparkle
like traces of grace
in the foam
swirling across
what beaches she walks.
And we wonder
what price of translation
she pays, as she sings
in a dress that is fraying
and slowly utters
every word
by barefoot
word.
 

At this point the original phrase is so far buried that it can barely be found, but still it haunts the lines. I toyed with the idea of keeping the seed phrase as an epigraph, but eventually decided against it. Here is another example, built off of "We need magic now we need the spells . . . What will be the sacred word?" from Amiri Baraka's "Ka'Ba";

AT DAWN
(B-Bop Solo #2)

We could interlock,
in need of only ourselves.
A magic morning
once birdsung,
now caressed by whispers.
We could breathe in sync
if in need of a rhythm.
The anagram of 
silence

spells license.
What wild letters would
our embrace contain?

B is the first letter
of beginning,
an initial sound almost
sacred as any word
we might whisper.

We might hum
like bees in need
of a honey song.
A magic buzzing,
softer now as we nestle.
We could search 
each others mouths,
in need of the tongue 
that spells the final prayer.
What syllables
would be sanctified,
what sound sacred,
what word 

as worship?

We could gasp
"Oh, God"
in need of air,
of magic mouths.
Now kissing,

we could coil,
in need of more heat.
Our sweat beads,
spells exertion.
What place touched
would tingle most,
be the trigger of
that first moan,
more sacred
than any word
we might imagine?



This poem uses three iterations of the line to generate three stanzas. As you can see the poem retains a certain type of structure, yet the poet is free to roam and improvise, including using entirely different content than the original poem or line. Unlike other forms the Bebop Solo is ripe for collaboration, where different poets can each write a stanza using the same seminal line. It also makes for an excellent writing exercise for those who teach creative writing classes. One last example, which uses "At the end of my suffering there was a door." from Louis Gluck's "The Wild Iris";

THE FIRST GOSPEL
B-Bop Solo #1

At the darkest center
of the soul,
there is a cry
without end,
the song of whatever
is suffered.
The eye is the pupil
of its own affliction,
a darkness dilating
like a learning.
Is the 'I' lashed?
Is something like skin broken,
the opening jagged,
groaning like a door?

At the core
of the cry, an 'I'.
In the center
of the 'I', an Iris.
At the end of its stem,
a serrated slash.
In the mouth
of the slash,
a bead of blood.
In the blood
of the suffering,
a saltiness.
From the salt
a sound crystalizes.
The sound is a hinge,
and from a swinging
of the hinge,
something like that door
opens.

This was actually my first attempt at the form and probably isn't that good of a poem, but serves to illustrate the point. This form has become one of my favorite writing exercises to give to myself and I find it a great deal of fun to play with, whether or not I wind up with a good poem. Perhaps some of you may find this form intriguing and decide to give it a try.

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

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Lost the hand but got a poem. (Updated)




FLUSH

At the table's
padded edge,
I study her face
as the cards,
fifty-two,
wait to reveal
our future,
oblivious to
the weight,
of placed wagers.
Their rhythmic chorus-
riffling, cutting,
entering and exiting
a dovetailing desire,
an unsettling sound,
one that cannot hint or
predict the
deck's secret details,
no tableside sign
of awaited outcomes.
I close my eyes
and imagine,
listen for the whisper
and swoosh
of a river
beyond the Turn.
This is chaos,
the run
of randomness.
Will a large Spade
bury what remains
of my hand ?
Only one gets
what they want.
The last card
appears.
And here,
where hearts
pump their deepest,
her skin that once
seemed silent
now bursts
into radiant bloom.

Almost out of nowhere, this has become the second most read poem on my Blog. Written as an exercise where I was trying to incorporate more gambling imagery into my work, I was OK with the way it turned out. Unlike a lot of other poems I can't recall doing a lot of revising or really thinking that much about the poem. I never bothered to copy the poem into my iTouch where I keep the poems I perform at readings and thus have never read it aloud. But looking at the page views I was stunned to see how often the poem was viewed. I won't lie, I can't figure out why that would be. But then again, the most popular poem I've written (48 Hours After You Left) was the same way, I thought it was OK, but I kept getting requests to publish it and it was posted frequently on the web by readers who liked it and even plagiarized by some 17 year old kid in NYC on his MySpace page. I read this poem as literal, where a guy is actually playing a hand of poker, but I suspect that others are reading it as an extended metaphor. That's the only thing that really makes sense to me. Problem is, although I understand conceptually how someone can read it as an extended metaphor, I can't. I'm wedded to my interpretation, even though I don't want to be. I'd love it if folk would chime in and help me figure this out. Still, it's an interesting phenomenon where poets are blind to the popularity of certain of their poems. T.S. Eliot was said to have been mightily vexed by the popularity of 'Prufrock' to the point where he wanted to decline requests to reprint it in anthologies. Anybody else have a similar story with one of their pieces?

Update: One of my favorite phrases to tell young writers is that "your brain is smarter than you are", which basically means one should learn to trust one's subconscious more to grow as a writer. Now this article explains that one of the primary reasons color vision evolved in primates was so that they could read the emotional reactions of others and the amount or lack of blood flow in the skin is a primary indicator. So this poem evidently speaks on a much more primal level than I even realized.

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