Popular Posts

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

     Blake was all bullshit except for the bomb.  His baby-bald scalp burned bacon-red, the same color as the tips of the Bull Brands he smoked.  Extras poked from the slash pocket of his frayed Army field-jacket, sleeves cut at the shoulders.  Yard-sale purchase:  Blake wouldn't last a minute as a soldier.  But his harms about the bomb were the truth;  he worked as a physicist at Los Alamos to develop the bomb tested in the Alamogrodo desert.  In July 1945, Blake watched New Mexico burn.  Now he was back to see what was left….
     Blake's pickup clunked over wooden bridge that threatened to crumble into the threadbare Rio Grande below.  Grama grass clumped in bunches along Route 380, flanked by tan, jutted rocks, green and yellow flowered creosote patches, mesquite thickets, and barbed cholla cactus.
     A dragonfly imprinted on his windshield, and the free wing flopped in the wind.  Blake looked past the dead bug to see the first sign on the bare highway:  STALLION SERVICE ROAD. The south-running paved road was gated shut.  The test site and the surrounding area was now the White Sands Missile Range, where missiles were proved for most days, but the gate did open twice a year to a herd of visitors.  They stood in the rock-blown casing and took photographs of trinitite:  rock-glass formed during the test.  But Blake hadn't come for the two-dollar tour.  Blake had come to feel the real, bare desert, after hours.

…..from Ember Days by Nick Ripatrazone, Bridgewater  

     Okay, let's start with the title Ember Days.  It suggests the end of something, leftovers after a conflagration.  It is connected, then, with what remains after the nuclear testing conducted in the New Mexican desert seventy years ago.  Embers can contain live coals and the remnants of what was.  coaxed back into life, embers can start the whole thing up again.  Are these the embers that Nick Ripatrazone names his new book after?
     It is also possible for the embers to be the transition between things.  Long ago, Catholic tradition included "Ember Days"  as days of fasting between seasons, probably linked to Celtic seasonal festivals.  A sort of Lent before the newness of a season signaled change four times a year.   (We are actually in Ember Days right now, the week between Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday.  That's why I saved this review for this week.  This is the Trinity Site in New Mexico, our national obelisk dedicated to the atomic bomb:  "the world's first nuclear device was exploded here.")
     Ripatrizone's title for the novella and collection of short stories that construct Ember Days indicates  that the stories inside contain the remnants of passion, politics, and life that could once again ignite if coaxed by a character, reader or writer.  The title also lets us know something about the space between what was and what is in a Venn diagram of time.  As in a collection by Raymond Carver, the stories are not connected by character, but they are linked by a bombed-out feeling of realizing the truth too late.  Like Carver, Ripatrizone walks characters quietly through stores, letting them get some of that desert dust on them to show where they have been.  Unlike Carver's though, Ripatrizone's characters have the opportunity to redeem themselves and atone for their past sins.  Sometimes they do not take that chance, as in the final story "The Cribbing Collar."
     There are also embers of All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy in this work, a Western aimlessness of beautiful horses and crummy cars.  I was also reminded of Hemingway's "The End of Something," one of the Nick Adams stories in which the unsaid rises above all language between the characters.  No grandiose disappointments, no great dreams crushed.   Just moving on through the barrenness made even worse by someone else's bomb blasts.
     Read Ember Days and watch this movie.  You'll see what I mean.

Today's Writing Prompt:

Walk around a few rooms of your house or apartment.  Summon up the images if things that have happened there in the past.  Think about how those events affect you now, or not.  What bomb blast did you endure?  What, if any, barren place has it left behind?

Keep reading and writing,


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Is there not poetry in silence?

Old age is
a flight of small
cheeping birds
bare trees
above a snow glaze.
Gaining and failing
they are buffeted
by a dark wind --
But what?
On harsh weedstalks
the flock has rested --
the snow
is covered with broken
seed husks
and the wind tempered
with a shrill
piping of plenty

…"To Waken an Old Lady" by William Carlos Williams, Rutherford


      MOTHER MARY JORDAN Mother Mary Jordan of the Holy Face, O.P., Prioress for many years at Union City's Blue Chapel, died on February 24, 2015 at St. Catherine's Infirmary in Caldwell. Mother Jordan was 96. Baptized Johanna Christie in Astoria, New York, Mother came from a large and loving family. It was from there that Mother entered the cloister of the Blue Chapel on the Feast of the Assumption in 1942 and faithfully remained enclosed until her transfer to the infirmary at St. Catherine's Convent in Caldwell in 2004. 

     Mother Jordan was a self-taught artist who worked in a variety of media during her lifetime. An expert seamstress, she designed and made a number of vestments for the support of the Community. She loved to paint, and in her early years painted the Mass cards that were one of the mainstays of the Community's income. Mother loved music, enjoyed singing, and appreciated opera. In addition to her artistic talent, she was often called upon to fix the boilers or air conditioning, supervise a financial transaction, or discuss baseball.
     A little known fact about Mother was that before entering religious life, Mother Jordan was one of the first female sports reporters on Long Island  Her love of games and sportsmanship made Mother an avid board game enthusiast, a hobby she continued to enjoy with the Caldwell Sisters at St. Catherine's. 
     Here is an excerpt from the homily given at Mother Mary's Solemn Profession

     I think it is that our happiness today, one we share with Sister, is based on a deeper mystery that includes everything else I’ve already suggested. And it is this: Sister Mary Jordan and her companions have befriended the solitary nature of the soul. They have befriended the solitary nature of the soul. I put it to you that each of us is, at the deepest level, alone. And that aloneness manifests itself to us most immediately as loneliness. And this is a surprising and disturbing thing, because it never goes away. Even in intimacies such as marriage and family, close friendship and religious life, we are aware, deeply, that we are not ever completely understood, nor do we understand our companions.
     And somehow in most cases this loneliness offends. We face the fact that no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we open ourselves to others, our connection with them is never complete. And this bothers. My own experience is that the majority of sins I hear confessed stem from the fact that people cannot bear their loneliness. They cannot bear their loneliness. And here is where we meet the mystery of the life of the Sisters, because in fact they are not locked away from us nor have the escaped from us, they are in fact ahead of us, because what they have discovered by God’s grace is that this solitude, this aloneness, inscribed deeply in the soul, is in fact a gift of God. That the Creator of the human person has built that in as part of us, and for a reason. For it is there, in the incompleteness of human life, that He desires to meet us. 

     Goodbye, Jersey Writer Mother Jordan.  For 64 years you lived in Union City and quietly prayed for us through Hitler, and the Atomic Age, and the Space Program, and Vietnam, and 9/11.   Perhaps we all survived those things in some way because of you.

Today's Writing Prompt

Be quiet.  No TV, no phone, no conversations.  Be quiet for a few hours.  You may be able to write something afterwards.

Keep reading and writing,


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bruce and Joan's Excellent Adventure

Well I came by your house the other day, your mother said you went away
She said there was nothing that I could have done
There was nothing nobody could say
Me and you we've known each other ever since we were sixteen
I wished I would have known I wished I could have called you
Just to say goodbye Bobby Jean

Now you hung with me when all the others turned away turned up their nose
We liked the same music we liked the same bands we liked the same clothes
We told each other that we were the wildest, the wildest things we'd ever seen
Now I wished you would have told me I wished I could have talked to you
Just to say goodbye Bobby Jean

Now we went walking in the rain talking about the pain from the world we hid
Now there ain't nobody nowhere nohow gonna ever understand me the way you did
Maybe you'll be out there on that road somewhere
In some bus or train traveling along
In some motel room there'll be a radio playing
And you'll hear me sing this song
Well if you do you'll know I'm thinking of you and all the miles in between
And I'm just calling one last time not to change your mind
But just to say I miss you baby, good luck goodbye, Bobby Jean

Bobby Jean by Bruce Springsteen, Freehold

Sad news from yesterday's Asbury Park Press.  Journalism is going through tough times now with foreign press/magazine offices under assault in Denmark and France; nightly newscasters thrown under the shadow of doubt and miscommunication; war zone terrorism and captivity; and the recent deaths of the Times's David Carr and WWOR's Joe Franklin.  Among Jersey Writers, we lost the real deal:  Joan Pikula, a reporter who followed a young band called Child with that 'wild' guitar player, Bruce Springsteen; Child and that 'way-out' keyboard man, Danny Federici; Child and that fantastic drummer, Vini Lopez.
Here's Joan in 1972, when she was covering Child, then Steel Mill 
"because that's all the kids are talking about."

Peter Ames Carlin in his well-documented tome Bruce from 2012, credits Pikula for her early stories in the Press that brought Bruce's band Steel Mill to the "light of day." (Here are some comments about Steel Mill by Dave Marsh in Bruce Springsteen on Tour: 1968-2005.)

Joan Later became the editor of Dance magazine, where she interviewed John Travolta (and later George Balanchine.)  Here's her take on the purpose of dance, even disco, as part of a reflection on the impact of Saturday Night Fever: Joan Pikula wrote in Dance Magazine at the time that: “For some, dancing is a release, an outlet for the daily frustrations and monotonies.For them, abandonment to movement is an addendum to life – supplemental rather than essential in nature. These are the people who Charlestoned through the 'twenties, jitterbugged through the 'fifties, and moved in solitary fire and fury through the `peace and love' music happenings and exploitive go-go clubs of the rocking 'sixties.”  (as reported by Emanuel Levy

Goodbye, Joan.  You had "the eye" and "the ear" for something that changed the world of music.  According to my rocker friend, "I started hanging out in AP and Long Branch with the band and followers in 1972. I was 16 and had a fake ID. Drinking age was 18 back then. We always landed at the Inkwell in West End and Danny Federici, Bruce and co often landed there too along with other artists. It was a time. Joan was bad ass and she knew rock and roll. We all did."

Today's Writing Prompt:

Write three possible names for bands that reflect something about where you grew up.  Tell the stories behind the names.  Suburban Landmines? The Bergenlines? Mikey and the Blue Jays?

Keep reading and writing,


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Winter Trees

William Carlos Williams1883 - 1963

All the complicated details 
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
…Doc Williams, Rutherford

Welcome to Lent, to another snowbound day, to the first glimpses of sunshine in a week.  The trees are not dead; they are at rest, having completed another annual sequence of dressing and undressing.  During this season, we are also waiting, preparing ourselves for the spring that lies ahead.  Instead of giving something up, what are we to take on?  What are we going to lift up instead?
Today's Writing Prompt:
Williams' line "A liquid moon moves quietly among the long branches" is like a haiku within the walnut shell of this short poem, a beautiful image of white, cold light.  Take a few minutes to create a clear winter image.  Later on, put it in the middle of something else.
Keep reading and writing,

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Do you know what work is?

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead 
a man is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants.
You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who's not beside you or behind or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is. 

…"What Work Is," Philip Levine, Detroit

Directing you to this article from The Economist regarding the selection of Philip Levine as our Poet Laureate.  In this piece, Levine is connected to Jersey Guys Walt Whitman and F. Scott Fitzgerald, two looming figures in the manufacture of the American Dream (always different things to different people.)
Levine passed this week, after a life of observing the classism in America and the mindless drudgery of some people's work.  Was he our Emile Zola?  Were our cleaning ladies France's miners?  He does not sing the song of altruism and the value of work; he acknowledges the process of grinding down the grain.

Today's Writing Prompt:

Consider your work today. Write carefully about doing a single mundane task involved in your daily process.  Capture the details, feel the textures of what's around you.

Keep Reading and Writing,


Sunday, February 15, 2015

At thirteen, I screamed,
“You’re disgusting,”
drinking your coffee from a saucer.
Your startled eyes darkened with shame.

You, one dead leg dragging,
counting your night-shift hours,
you, smiling past yellowed,gaping teeth,
you, mixing the eggnog for me yourself
in a fat dime store cup,

how I betrayed you,
over and over, ashamed of your broken tongue,
how I laughed, savage and innocent,
at your mutilations.

Today, my son shouts,
“Don’t tell anyone you’re my mother,”
hunching down in the car
so the other boys won’t see us together.

Daddy, are you laughing?
Oh, how things turn full circle,
my own words coming back
to slap my face.

I was sixteen when you called one night from your work.
I called you “dear,”
loving you in that moment
past all the barriers of the heart.
You called again every night for a week.
I never said it again.
I wish I could say it now.

Dear, my Dear,
with your twisted tongue,
I did not understand you
dragging your burden of love.

…"Betrayals" by Maria Maziotti Gillan, Paterson

Recently, I was told that I have a "blue collar mentality."  What a wonderful thing to have, especially as the great writing of New Jersey often issues from that stream.  I have been pondering, though, what, exactly, the expression means.  Sure, the term "blue collar" itself refers to laborers at the turn of the last century who wore blue shirts to work, non-management types who built everything we are standing or sitting on right now.  People who wear  uniforms -cops, nurses, firefighters.  Some had more education than others did, but they still worked with their hands and brains to get things done.  Nobody made them coffee; nobody handed them their schedule at the beginning of the day.  What, then, is the mentality of a person like this?
I am still trying to get it.  I guess it means that I don't think like a rich person, that I have no sense of entitlement or that I am owed anything.  Everything a blue collar person gets, she gets by working.  Maria Maziotti Gillan knew that about her father; she knew it about all the Italian-Americans in her working-class neighborhood in Paterson.  She knows it now and it still informs her newest publication The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.  In these pieces, women who have earned their joy get to celebrate it.

Today's Writing Prompt:

Describe your working mother, father, husband, wife, as that person enters the door of your home when returning from a day of work.  What are the motions?  What weight is lifted?  What weights are loaded on?  What happens first before anything is said?  What is your role in this person's arrival?

Keep reading and writing,


DON'T MISS THIS!  I'll be there!  Join me!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The over-all picture is winter
icy mountains
in the background the return
from the hunt it is toward evening
from the left
sturdy hunters lead in
their pack the inn-sign
hanging from a
broken hinge is a stag a crucifix
between his antlers the cold
inn yard is
deserted but for a huge bonfire
that flares wind-driven tended by
women who cluster
about it to the right beyond
the hill is a pattern of skaters
Brueghel the painter
concerned with it all has chosen
a winter-struck bush for his
foreground to
complete the picture

The Hunters in the Snow by William Carlos Williams, Rutherford

Doc Williams of Rutherford and Paterson on a winter's day here in New Jersey.  (That downward slope suggests a waterfall, no?) A poem from a painting - art begets art.  A study in depth-of-field.  What were you hunting for today?

Today's Writing Prompt:

Walk around your house and find a picture that you have always liked.  Tell its story in a poem, paragraph, or story.  Not your own story, now, but the story being told by the storyteller.  Right now, I am looking at a framed copy of the Abbey Road album.  Remember how many stories were told about that picture?  How could Paul be dead if he was at the Super Bowl on Sunday?

Keep reading and writing,