Sunday, November 27, 2011


Did your father tell you
this wasn't a poem
it doesn't rhyme?

Friday, November 25, 2011

As If Nothing Had Happened

My mother’s father, who we called Gigi, was blind for the last five years of his life. He lost eyesight in his first eye when he was playing tennis with my aunt and got hit in the face with the tennis ball. There was something about a detached retina, a product of the blow from the ball whose speed was a product of my aunt’s sporty, competitive nature. For a few years after this my mom told me that he acted as if the whole thing hadn’t happened, continuing to drive his car, but with his head cocked to the side to give his one eye the full view of the landscape.
        A few years later, when his other eye went dark, he became frail and thin. I learned the phrase “skin and bones,” which I liked to repeat whenever Gigi was mentioned in front of someone who didn’t know him. “He’s all skin and bones,” I’d say. To me it sounded like a disease, but I failed to realize how it reflected his stubbornness. His wife had been dead a long time. His one daughter lived close by, my mom and our family lived two hours away. But he would get along on his own, as if the whole thing hadn’t happened.
        I remember the weekends we’d visit—usually just mom, Thomas, and me. There was the Rice Krispie Cereal I’d eat his kitchen counter, which had a funny taste that I came to realize later was because I had been eating out of the same box for five consecutive years.
        There was the warm bowl of water and my grandfather’s fingers and mom with an emory board, giving him a manicure.
        There was the vintage slot machine that continued to accept dimes and to let you win back your earnings 90% of the time.
        There were the lighters, placed strategically around the house so that wherever Gigi was he could still be smoking a cigarette. He had burn holes in his clothes, in his chair, his couch, his green robe, even a big black char on the bathroom floor from what I imagine must have been a small fire.
        The way my brother and I used to fight about who got to light his next cigarette. And the way Gigi would hold it, poised on the edge of his lips. And how I’d gingerly strike the dial and produce the flame. The time I gave him his cigarette backwards and lit the filter. The way my mom refused to believe in second hand smoke, saying like she later would about Global Warming, that people were paranoid and such a thing didn’t exist. How we’d come home from the weekend, unpack our suitcases, and find our clothes caked in the smell.
        The way, late at night when Thomas and I had been tucked into the twin beds in the guest room, I’d creep out of bed to see Mom sitting on the back porch, looking at the lights of the San Bernardino Valley, drinking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette with her father.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fatalism: Good or Bad or Inevitable

I really didn’t know what to think of Lyn Hejinian's The Fatalist for the first twenty-five pages until I read an essay explaining how the language in the book was literally taken from a year’s worth of Hejinian’s correspondences (emails included). The idea of someone looking at a year of their life and watching the stream--how things came to be--which events lead to other events, is really intriguing. Every once in a while, I look through a decade-worth of Facebook pictures. Don't we all?

The definition of fatalism is “the belief that all events are predetermined and therefore inevitable.” According to the dictionary, the end result of a belief in fatalism is “a submissive attitude to events.” This attitude could be interpreted as either positive or negative (or I suppose both). A negative reaction would say there is nothing you can do to change the trajectory of your life, which is kind of scary. For someone who’s dealt with hip pain and surgery and all that comes with that for the past two years, the idea that none of it will make a difference, the idea that “I was always meant to have hip problems,” is terrifying. But a more positive view reminds me of a line in Kathleen Graber’s book of poems The Eternal City, which says, “Tell yourself it's simple: this is where it's been heading all along. Tell yourself something you have no faith in has already begun to occur." Like, I have faith that my hips are getting better. All the pain and worry and anxiety has been leading to this moment of faith, where I finally believe that “I was always meant to be healed.”

I don’t understand the outcome of studying Lyn Hejinian’s year of correspondence. It’s hard for me to place myself into someone else’s head, especially when words and phrases have been deleted. Who was she talking to, for example, when she wrote, “The children now admit they are violent” (Hejinian, 29). But the language is striking and beautiful-- “prose is not necessarily not poetry” ("Barbarism," Hejinian, 323).

But the experience of reading this book has caused me to reflect on my own experience. And without having known Hejinian’s premise--the year’s email correspondence--I could not have come away with the same sense of meaningfulness. To relay what I mean, I offer an example. At one point in the year, Hejinian happened to write a line about destiny. Not just a “this is where we ended up” kind of destiny, but a reflective thought about journey and the unknown. And then later, for at least one of her readers (me!), that line would become the crux of the book the writer didn’t know she was writing:

“Perhaps the trip
will be purposeless. Destiny is simply a good excuse for experience.”

How does one not come away with a sense of Oh.

(Image taken from

Sunday, November 13, 2011


On 10th and Broadway
you recited the Nicene Creed
and said you believed in God
and the Spirit.

I thought you might even take communion.
We joke about the unleavened bread.
How good it tastes when
you haven't eaten for hours.
But it was too soon for that.

We bowed our heads.
From the corner
your lips moving
I did notice that.