"The stars are threshed, and the souls are threshed from their husks."

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


Scott and I play another game in the valley, a reading game. Whether on the road, or walking through a friendly stretch of land, our eyes interrogate the earth and its inhabitants for coded information. What has been touched, and why, or what left conspicuously untouched. What is the scale of things, what touched by machines or by hand, what an accident. This game, the single rule of which is that the landscape is legible, has revealed much to us, and directed us to the people, farms, ranches, and questions that made this journey possible. On the edge of Ramon's acre grew a kind of living fence of broad green paddle cactus. Cactus, because it can and will grow without water, is at worst a weed, I thought, or at best, decorative. The branches reached uneven heights and the top and sides of each paddle were heavily scarred-clear evidence of human knife work, of harvest.

“What's this?” I asked.

“I'll show you,” Ramon said, and unfolded his pocket knife. He carefully inspected the paddles, explaining his actions as he went along. This is too big, he'd say, or this is too small. “What you want is these soft bright green paddles, like this one,” Ramon cut off a pliant paddle at its base, deftly shaved the fur-like thorns off the face and edges of the plant, and cut Scott and me each a thin, glistening slice.

“They're just like green beans,” he said, and Scott and I put the oozing, gelatinous slices in our mouth and began to chew and make noises. They were nothing like green beans, but they were refreshingly sour, and we both reached for another slice. The curiosity was pleasant, and the taste and texture not unpleasant: more data was needed. I began to get a sense for their virtues, and imagined sauteeing them quick and hot with sliced serrano peppers and strips of skirt steak, or pureeing them and adding them to a soup of pinto beans and ham hock.

“What do you make with them?” Scott inquired, on a similar train of thought. Ramon seemed a bit lost by the question and talked about omelets and frying them in pans with the vagueness of a man who has been banned from the kitchen for several decades. This was our first encounter with the half-wild, half-cultivated nopales cactus. We would meet it again.

“Where does it grow?” I asked, wondering rather forlornly if it could survive a Kansas winter and ugly up a couple of hedge-apple cluttered ditches on my land back home, but Ramon's answer surprised me.

“It grows,” he said with unwavering eyes on mine, “wherever people are hungry.”


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

overheard in albany

"She's the most common raptor in Africa! It's not like she's special."

Sunnyside Cafe, 10 a.m.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

He wishes to join again, an unreasonable speech out of context


Oppen's work strikes me, but I cannot say that it inspires love in me. Mostly,
I think, because such love would be unnecessary to his vision, running
dangerously close to antithetical--his world is wholly founded on a physics of
the conditional...

Firstly, he loathes the past tense, working out the patient puzzle of existence
through a series of affirmations: "There are things/we live among..." "The
emotions are engaged... This is, therefore, the language of New York". You can
count on one hand how often he uses the round vowels and extra consonants of
the past tense, and when he is compelled to do so, he quickly moves the
introduction of the past to a continuation of the present--either moving
forward to now, or taking now backwards to then, or he introduces a
conditional- could, may, if/then propositions... he seems to admit nothing but
an immediate sense of Time but an infinite, though often interchangable,
conception of space.

This style becomes a wholly new way of viewing the world when combined with his
avoidance of imagery, creating, instead, a kind of rhetorical moment that
posseses all the coherence of the image, or metaphor, but exists only in the
unique potentiality of language... "The bright light of shipwreck." "It is not
the wild glare/Of the world even that one dies in."

Or, in one of my favorites, one that brings me closest to what I would call

Because the known and the unknown

One witnesses--.
It is ennobling
If one thinks so.

If to know is noble

It is ennobling.


What sort of poetry is this? It is the style of the pedant transfigured by the
rapture and humility of the poet-- expository, phenomenological, but ever on
the edge of freedom, and often transfigured into it, and never without
yearning... but for what? (One a side note, the ease with which he uses the
words of others in his spare poetry, either quotes from authors or friends and
loved ones, moves him even further into a kind of poetry as essay...)

It is probably not surprising that a poet possesed by an inescapable present
and the mineral despair of matter itself would sieze on a numerical method of
inquiry, a dialectic between one and many, between a lost tribal past, who
"were credulous/Their things shown in the forest" and the city, New York, of

Or war. Only Crusoe attains singularity-tho it is denied, in the end, by
civilization's rescue-and he, even, is not a man, but an idea.

More than any poet I've read, Oppen has confronted openly-and despairingly-the
metaphysics of modern life-which is no longer metaphysics...

"These things at the limits of reason, nothing at the limits of dream, the
dream merely ends, by this we know it is the real

That we confront"

The dream is almost a condition of poetry, historically, a drug, an opiate that
transfigures the mundane into the sacred--this poetic mode Oppen shuns,
choosing instead an unyeilding sobriety and a present world that never goes
away. The future is only glimpsed in women and children-and not in them
personally, but in the fact of them. He uses poetry not to make the world go
away, or to bring down bits of heaven, but to crowd us with it, to examine
it... convinced that we are our civilization, and we are not now what we were,
and that "We will produce no sane man again."

Thank you very much for lending him to me. I need to start finding books of
my own of his; I feel like I've dipped into the middle of profound chess match,
but I don't know the opening, nor who wins. I feel, also, that his language is
good for me, as sobriety is rarely as tempting as drunkenness.

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I am interested in - do tell me about

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dear Statisticians,

The fact that a global increase in food poduction leads to famine in certain areas is not 'paradoxical.' The reason for this is simple: the world doesn't exist everywhere at once. This is a good axiom in all your many dealings.

Thank you for your time,


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Bearer of Strange Melons

Mike walked quickly and nudged melons around with his feet, apparently appraising ripeness through his boots. Two of the three types of melons he planted had failed. September had been unusually cool and they hadn’t received the proper sun and heat to ripen. He scooped an emissary of the first crop, cut out an elegant slice from it with a knife I never saw him unsheathe, and handed the white slice to me. Then he did the same for Scott. My thirst drank greedily of the juice gushing from the melon’s flesh and I devoured my slice with pleasure and haste. Mike, however, cut himself a transparently thin piece, spat, and tossed the open melon back into the patch without ceremony or a second glance. Chagrined, Scott and I realized that we had just enjoyed a worthless, no-account, failure of a melon, a melon undeserving of the name, a melon beneath contempt.

“I can’t sell anything from this crop,” he said, and hopped nimbly between rows to another variety. The second melon was more promising. Mike dispatched three slices with samurai speed and indifference and a ripe melon scent bullied the air around us. Scott and I reached hurriedly for our share. The flesh was orange and glistening. ‘Better’, Mike grunted, and then dropped the melon and moved on. I lingered some, savoring the sweet fullness, its sensual pliancy. It was not the best melon I had ever eaten, but it compared. This was a melon I would have rhapsodized had I fetched it for my breakfast table, and yet this man, who was no snob and proud of his farm’s ability to provide for his family, would not, could not sell it. What did he know that I didn’t? Did melons actually get that much better?

Mike was cradling a large, strange object and grinning loudly. I broke my reverie and hurried over to see what he had found. It was a fearsome object, and ugly. Its shell was several shades of green and covered with smooth bumps, obviously the victim of some wretched disease. Mike parted the amphibious skin of the melon like Moses parted the waters-it was as if this melon begged for the knife. He told us it was a Piel de Sapo, a Spanish variety whose name translates as Skin of a Frog. Once open, the melon was no longer ugly. Its flesh glistened like melting snow, weeping tears over its own perfection. The flavor was a cathedral and a liqueur. What did this mean? How had I lived twenty-five years and never been given so sweet a gift? We do not eat real food, I thought, we do not eat real food. So staggered was I by this mortifying ecstasy, that I could not stop Mike from letting this melon—this Aphrodite—drop back into the patch from which it sprung. Scott too, in mute horror, watched the melon fall.

“We’ll let the chickens have it. There’s nothing they like better than melon seeds.”

-From Edges of Bounty: Adventures in the Edible Valley

Friday, September 01, 2006

This ain't my first rodeo

Overheard in Albany

“It’s not bad manners, it’s just good beer. That’s what my mom always said. My mom was the shuffle-board champion of Oregon. She was ambidextrous. Just like rodeo boys, or jockeys. All ambidextrous.”

In Australia:
“You’re a yankee”
“I’ll yank you across this counter. If it wasn’t for yankees you’d all be walking around with a swashtika up your asses.” “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

I work every day. For Schwartzena… what’s his name? “Schwartzaneger? “Yeah, Swat’s-a-nigger’ that’s the guy.