Archive for August, 2011

And by that I mean, did you ever read a book — at any age, but particularly when you were younger — where you thought to yourself: That’s the person I want to be!

Wait! Wait! I didn’t throw a monkey wrench into it yet!

The book can NOT be a fantasy or science-fiction title.

Did that ruin it for anyone? Everyone?

See, last week there was this article in the NYT about boys and reading and yadda yadda yadda. But out of that I found myself wondering what, if any, characters in literature really made me sit up and really wish I could be that person.

We talk so much in the craft of fiction about identifying with characters, empathizing with them, sympathizing with their plight, but how many of them represent who we would actually, willingly want to be identified with?

Did it stick? Did you change your life, your environment, your personality to be more like that character?

Now, why am I removing fantasy and sci-fi from the mix? Well, I have a theory, but it’s only that, that readers might be more prone to adopting a fantasy persona than one from a more realistic or historical setting. Who wouldn’t want to do something impossible, like cast spells or fly to other worlds? Yes, yes, I know that character traits are universal and the setting shouldn’t matter, but my curiosity and my intuition are strongly leaning toward the idea that it is harder to find realistic characters we can identify with.

Still with me?

Please, post and discuss in the comments below. And invite everyone you know to join in.

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What is a pear tree, and what does it mean for a king to have one in front of his castle that provided the most beautiful fruit? And why most beautiful, why not the sweetest or the juiciest?

And why should we concern ourselves that each year, at the moment the pears were juiciest, they would disappear before the could be harvested? How was it that no one saw the culprit or knew what happened to the fruit?

We know the king had three sons, and that three is a cardinal number for such tales, but why is there always only one son who is somehow different? Why could there not be more than one dullard in the bunch, or if it be girls, more than one beauty? Why this singling out?

How predictable is it that the older, smarter brothers who guard the tree fail in their duty, and how do they manage to both do it in exactly the same way? Could the first brother not warn the second brother to be extra cautious the night before harvesting? Would not the king bring on other guard to help the second brother after his failure? Is this are just kingly pride and arrogance?

So when the older brothers fail in their task, does anyone expect the younger brother, the simpleton, to succeed? Each time before it took a full year for the fruit to mature, you begin to wonder, is it really worth all this effort? Again we come back to that pear tree: what made it so special?  Was it rare? Were there no others like it? Did everyone imagine the most beautiful fruit possessed some special powers?

Is anyone surprised when the simpleton succeeds?

So what do we make of this dove that comes the night before the harvest and carries each pear away one by one silently in the night? Is it significant that it is white? What alarms does a white dove signal, what symbolism is at play here? Purity? Virginity? Fidelity? Beauty? Peace?

A partridge in a pear tree, perhaps?

But when the simpleton follows the dove to a mountain and finds a little gray man standing beside him, why say “God bless you?” Is this an archaic form of surprise, a sort of religious expletive designed to delight through blasphemy?

So… how exactly do these words, then, release the little gray man from his spell?  What spell? How is he changed by all this? Is he no longer middle, or gray? Does being a little gray man suggest middle age? Is this all an allegory for midlife crisis?

When the little gray man tells the simpleton that he will find his happiness in the cliffs on the mountain, where the dove has disappeared to, why does he go? Is it because he’s a simpleton or because the story demands it? Is this simpleton truly so simple that he does what he’s told without question? Was he even unhappy to begin with?

And now he finds the bird, this dove, trapped in a massive spiders web… and he does nothing? He stands there watching the bird struggle to become free? Why? And what is it that compels the bird to struggle in such a way that it breaks free of the web, as if it would not wish to survive were it not for the audience? And when she does, this bird, this dove, break free, how does this act break her particular spell? Was she not freed from the web by her own actions? Again, is the simpleton as a spectator really all it took to free here?

Honestly, were both the little gray man and the dove waiting years for someone to follow a thieving bird in the hopes of being free? What are the odds?

Is anyone surprised that the dove was really a princess, and does anyone believe the married and lived happily ever after?

Does the king’s pear tree continue to produce beautiful fruit, or was that part of the enchantment as well?

Did people tell this story to their simpleton children in order to give them hope?



“The White Dove” is freely adapted from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. This story, number 246, ran into a bit of a delay due to problems surrounding my proposed vacation to an area currently getting pounded by hurricane Irene. That issue — my vacation — is still being hammered out, but the Tales from the New Grimmoire continue forward. Eventually.

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As summer comes to an end, a poem reflecting on the end of another summer and the film that did not mend a teenage relationship. To be fair, nothing would have saved it, but dragging my soon-to-be-heading-to-college girlfriend to see Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band certainly didn’t leave things on a high note. Though the poem stands nicely on its own (I think so at least) if you really want the full effect of that summer you should read this while listening to the instrumental middle of the Steely Dan song “Aja.”

Under no circumstance should you be able to locate, much less listen to, the soundtrack to the film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. The ghost of George Burns will haunt you if you do.


MGM sold off the props
and let the backlots go to rot

surrounded by a steel fence
gone to rust like holey undies

worn by Mrs. Miniver’s house
down Andy Hardy Lane

the old gal didn’t care any more
what folks saw through her


That summer Culver City buzzed
Lot 2 would get its final shot

a musical on the same streets
Judy Garland called St. Louis

the broken window panes replaced
weeds pulled from faux sidewalks

newly whitewashed picket fences
in support of the facade town called



The movie date idea was mine
a Hail Mary of desperation

to rekindle a relationship
that ended months earlier

in the sticky late summer heat
waiting in line opening night

to see the last movie shot at Lot 2
absurdly based on songs written by the


It never occurred to me then
how selfish my choice was

how a date movie should have been
something both of us wanted to see

or that the premise was a disaster
to rival the Hindenburg

or to heed the warning that
a sold out show meant we wouldn’t sit


A late-night walk on the beach
salt air to erase the movie’s stench

one final make-out on moon cold sand
a clumsy lip-locked kiss-off

our 3 AM parents furiously waiting
for us to finally come home

grounded, single, car keys taken away
“I hope it was worth it” dad said


Right now I’m willing to bet there’s some kid out there thinking about taking his soon-to-be ex to a movie. As is the case when it comes to underage drinking or drug use, I hope the kid makes good choices. The wrong movie can be deadly.

Hey! It’s Poetry Friday! And there’s plenty of other poetry out there, this week being hosted by  non-hurricane-Irene over at Live. Love Explore!

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Sports writer (it figures) cum YA author Robert Lipsyte rattled the cages of the kidlit community this past weekend with his essay in the NYT Book Review essentially lobbing the teen boy reading problem back across the net into the “more boy books” camp. This naturally, almost assuredly, possibly deliberately, raised the hackles of those who feel that the problem isn’t books (don’t blame the books!) but in the way society raises the boys (we need to raise boys as feminists!). Here’s the one line that resonated with me out of the whole essay, the one most true, the one ring to bind them:

“We need more good works of realistic fiction, nonfiction, graphic novels, on- or ­offline, that invite boys to reflect on what kinds of men they want to become.”

Forget everything else Lipsyte said for a moment (especially if it bothered you) and think about everything this statement embraces.

First and foremost it recommends we need books. Define that how you will, I would love to hear someone argue the opposite side, that we don’t need books anymore.

Second, the modifier good is in there. We don’t just need more crap, we need quality, and again there’s a spectrum there.  Suffice to say we know good when we see it, what defines good isn’t at issue here.

Third, following the rule of threes, comes the type of good books that we need: realistic fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels. Any naysayers out there? Anyone think we couldn’t use more quality nonfiction, solid realistic fiction, or good graphic novels? No? Let’s move on.

The next part is tricky: inviting boys. This gets tossed around and argued quite a bit, and it usually has to do either with cover designs or whether a girl is involved with the story. This is the “Ew, cooties!” argument, and the division is usually between “if it’s good, it shouldn’t matter” and “we need to teach boys to get over it.”  This is the point where I would think most pro-feminists would want to weigh in with just exactly how boys get to this stage of thinking. There’s an avalanche of advertising and marketing out there that is conditioning boys from a very early age to think of pink as a girly color and that stories featuring girls will contain content of no interest to them. There’s a ginormous world out there molding and shaping the ways boys approach their entertainment and free time, and you want to draw a line in the sand at books and dare boys to cross it? If we aren’t going to invite boys into books, if the stand is going to be pandering versus political, or if there’s just no desire to even bother, then how can we possibly imagine a world where boys even begin to come close to recognizing books as valuable?

Now comes the most interesting phrase out of the Lipsyte quote, to reflect. We don’t just want them to read for the sake of reading, we want them to find meaning and purpose in what they read, we want them to think. This is where I feel a lot more harm than good is done in the schools when there is a dramatic shift from reading for fun toward reading for meaning. I do think boys can and should be able to analyze texts and glean relevent meaning from a story, any story, but I don’t think books should be used to do this. This is where I get a little radical and run my post a little off a side track, but this is the crux of it:

Apply all the lessons taught about subtext and metaphor and literary devices via movies and television shows.

Why? Because we already know they spend more time with visual media than they do books. Because we need them to see that these lessons exist in the world outside the classroom. And because they will be better able to apply those lessons to books if we don’t remove them from the category of pleasurable pursuits. You can take any contemporary television sitcom and use it to teach racial and gender-based stereotypes for example – and there’s a LOT of examples out there, many of them hit shows, a lot of them negative – then have them read any work of fiction and they’ll spot them without effort. It doesn’t work the other way around however. Kids who are whipsmart at spotting literary devices in books view their favorite TV shows as somehow being separate or above all that.

Anyway, if we want our boy readers to be able to sincerely reflect on what they read in books we might have to actually teach them how to reflect somewhere else besides books first.

The last part of Lipsyte’s quote is a loaded gun: what kinds of men they want to become. You ask any boy what character from literature they would most like to be like, and what are the odds you’ll get a character from a fantasy novel, a hero with superpowers? Not very realistic. On the spot I can only think of one good example, and I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of a boy wanting to be like Atticus Finch. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a guy (outside of fellow writers) who said they wanted to be like any male, author or character, connected with books. There are great men to emulate in the world, politicians and athletes and movie stars, but these are all men of action who give no appearance of having read any books.

So if we want to invite boys to reflect on the type of men they want to become, and we want them to do it through good, realistic fiction, nonfiction, and graphic novels – and there’s nothing in that restatement I find objectionable – then we need more books that allow this to take place. This isn’t an argument of pandering versus bootstrap feminism, it’s about saying, simply, let’s put out more books like this and give them time to find an audience.

Boys and reading are like a teen driver and his broke-down truck by the side of the road. You can either give them a lift to the next town and help them one step further along the road to reading, or you slow down long enough to smirk at their choice of vehicle before driving off and leaving them in the choking dust.

We can argue all we want, but there are boys all over the literary map who need lifts into town.

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Movie poem time again! This time the subject is what happens in those moments of consciousness transitioning between life and death, and the medium of education is Roman Polanski’s 1971 adaptation of Macbeth. After losing his wife and unborn child in one of the infamous Manson Family murders a few years earlier, I cannot fathom how he could have made this film. Was it the catharsis of work, or of working out a vicarious murder of a Macbeth who looked vaguely like Charles Manson?

There’s no need to get into the particulars of Polanski’s later foibles, the film is an artifact of time and place and the imagery a film, any film, provides is worthy if it sticks with you your entire life. It was a cold, late night in the spring of 1977 when I saw this movie, and I can remember this image as clearly as if I saw it last week.

if godard is right
and movies deliver the truth
then polanski clarified that death
isn’t always instantaneous

poor macbeth
climbing the stairs in vain
knowing fate had come to collect
on his misdeeds

but the lasting indignity
to losing one’s head by broadsword
was remaining conscious long enough
to be spat on and mocked

carried through the courtyard
on the end of a stake
held aloft, cheers softly fading
in celebration of death

that the brain could remain
conscious for those fleeting moments
was more horrifying
than what might come after

shakespeare would have approved
of these unspooling truths
while my parents would reel in horror
at what the movies taught me

had they known

What Jean-Luc Godard is famous for saying is “Film is truth at 24 frames per second, and every cut is a lie.” And if we wanted to drop Susan Sontag in here and talk about how photos (or in this case movies) make reality real to our memory, then I have no doubt that what I saw was the truth. Yes, I know no actor was beheaded in the making of the film, but the emotional psychology that follows the action, that I know to be real. The movies made it so.

Fridays mean Poetry Friday, and out there in the Interntiverse there are people sharing all sorts of poems where, hopefully, no one is losing their head. The roundup is at Dori Reads and it looks like quite a collection.

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Katie and Freddy were a pair of fools, or so the people of the village thought. They seemed to have fool’s luck, the kind of luck that only a fool would have. Their worthless piece of farm land became fertile when the river changed its course, never mind that Freddy dammed up and diverted the river himself. And when there was record rainfall one season all the other homes in the village sprang leaks in their roofs while the fools stayed dry, no doubt the copper lining to their shingled roof helped.

So when Freddy and Katie came into town with a sack full of gold the people of the village assumed the fools had once again found their luck. As the spent the night in a tavern, buying drinks for all, they refused to tell a soul how they came upon their money until they were good and drunk. That is, they pretended to be drunk and then chose one person in whom they felt the could confide.

“In the woods there is a tree marked with an X carved into its trunk. At the base of the tree is a hollow and inside that hollow is where a band of local robbers stash their loot. As they have just left for another round of looting it is probably safe to go and help yourself to a sack or two of coins. But tell no one else! If too many were to know of this then surely the robbers will notice and look elsewhere for a hiding place!”

The villager, usually overcome with greed or desiring to stake their claim before the fools sobered up and came to their senses, would make their haste in finding the tree almost immediately. Into the dark woods they went, in search of the marked tree, usually finding it within the course of an hour.

And they were never heard from again.

Katie and Freddy never worried when the villagers would take their leave, they never hurried themselves out of the tavern, and often they spent the night in town and returned home the next day. It was with a secret smile that Freddy and Katie would wake up the next day and go to the home of the villager before returning to their own cottage. They knew they would not be disturbed, or caught, as they ransacked the homes of those who they tempted away with the lure of easy money.

Because they knew that person was dead, at the bottom of a dead-fall trap, impaled by sharpened spikes. This was what Katie and Freddy did.

After finding a suitable spot in the woods they would carve an X in a tree and dig a large pit in front of it. The bottom of the pit with fitted with sharpened rods of steel and spikes of the hardest wood. Then over the pit would be stretched a linen cloth which was covered with a thin layer of earth from the forest so that it looked natural. As the unsuspecting villagers saw the X in the tree they would quicken their pace, tumbling with their full weight into the pit and onto the spikes. After ransacking the villager’s home of all their valuables Katie and Freddy would travel to distant towns and sell off the valuables for more gold. In the time they spent away from the trap wolves and other animals would come and clean the bones of the fallen villager. All that remained for Freddy to do when they returned home was collect whatever valuable rings or gold hadn’t been eaten by the animals and to burn the clothing before rebuilding the trap.

Month after month the fools would come into town, arousing the greed and suspicion of villagers, and month after month another citizen of the village would mysteriously disappear. Because Freddy and Katie were careful in choosing their victims – telling only those who lived alone, or sending family members a day apart after resetting the dead-fall – few in the village saw the connection between the two incidents.

Soon the remaining villagers became spooked. People were disappearing and without a word, without a sound. Families would move away in the dead of night without warning, sometimes leaving behind their possessions. And with fewer and fewer people around the artisans and craftsmen and guildsmen left to ply their trades elsewhere. The last remaining villager was the owner of the inn connected to the tavern. The fools, taking pity on him, offered him all the money they had plus what the robber had hidden in the tree in exchange for the inn and tavern. It would be money enough to start anew in another town and the innkeeper jumped at the opportunity… and fell to his death just like all the others.

But the fools, they made sure the inn that had been formally signed over to them before they told the innkeeper where to go, and with no one else around to contradict or lay claim, they assumed ownership of all the buildings in the village and the surrounding land. From their dealings with the far away villages where the sold their pillaged goods, the fools spread word that they had inherited an empty village and were looking to populate it with good people. They sold the homes and business stalls for a good price and ran the inn for themselves. Freddy and Katie often entertained their new neighbors with fables, including one about   a couple who had allegedly lured unsuspecting villagers to their death in the woods. In turn the villagers told the story to their children to keep them from going there, and when those children grew up they told a pair of brothers the tale for a collection they were compiling. The new occupants of the village were all warmly received by Freddy and Katie, thought they were two of the nicest people they’d ever met, and none ever thought them fools.

Though there was a pit in the forest waiting, just in case these new neighbors turned out to be as rude as the old ones.



“Fool’s Gold” can be found in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes. It’s story #247 and if you’re having a sense of deja vu the way I did, this is a varaition of the story that I reimagined as “Dumb Luck: A Rube Goldberg Grimmoire” which was story #265. Oh, and also, both of these are variants of story #59 called “Freddy and Katie” which, at the rate of one story a week, I’ll probably hit around this time in 2015.

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Last week I weighed in with a memory culled from my teenage movie-going days and was surprised at how it began to pry open a collection of similar reflections. I’d hate to announce to the universe something like “Huh, I think I’ll make August my month of movie-related poems” only to suddenly find myself battling my muse for slivers of inspiration, but I think it’s worth a try for a second week in a row at least.

Some background. It was raining and there were less than twenty people in the audience that night. Afterward when we all filed out the theatre employees handed us small stickers that featured the iconic shot of actor Jack Nane with his column of hair sticking up and the words “Eraserhead – I Saw It!” around the outer edge. I reckon it was meant as a badge of honor but none us put it on, and in fact I distinctly recall that everyone seemed to deliberately avoid eye contact.

on a midweek Halloween
after midnight
see Eraserhead

despite curiosity
at seventeen
think you’ve seen it all

attempt to explain to friends
what it all meant
and be surprised by
blank stares

see Cornish game hens
erasers the same

The title, for the uninitiated, is an actual line of dialog from the film.

And so goes Poetry Friday! Karen at The Blog with the Shockingly Clever Title (no, seriously!) is hosting the round-up today. By all means, check it out. Not everyone is writing about David Lynch movies – although it would both funny and weird if they did!

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A wealthy merchant had cause to visit a neighboring town but before he left he asked his three daughters if they wished for him to bring anything home. The oldest daughter asked for a dress, the middle daughter asked for shoes, and the youngest, who was the merchant’s favorite, asked for a single red rose.

“A rose in winter!” the oldest daughter laughed.

“Who does she think she is?” said the middle daughter.

The merchant promised his youngest daughter he would do his best and left to tend to his business. In short order he was able to find a dress and a pair of shoes for his older daughters, but finding a rose in winter eluded the merchant. The keeper of the inn where the merchant was staying overheard the merchant discussing the matter with another and recommended a craftsman in town who specialized in flowers made of silk. The merchant was so thrilled he rushed straight to the craftsman’s shop.

The shop was bursting with bouquets of the most beautiful flowers in every shade and color imaginable. The innkeeper had not exaggerated the craftsman’s art, for the flowers had been installed on the ends of twigs and stems that made their appearance near-perfect, and the air was thick with the perfume of every bud as if in a meadow in spring. At first the merchant didn’t even see the craftsman at his bench behind an explosion of gardenias piled high before him.

“Excuse the mess,” the craftsman said. “I’m just finishing up an order for a wedding. How may I help you?”

“My youngest daughter has charged me with finding her a red rose in winter,” the merchant said. “You can appreciate the impossibility of this task.”

The craftsman smiled and nodded. Then, without another word, he removed a ribbon of red silk and brushed one of the edges with a small glue brush. Then he removed a thorny rose branch from a bin behind him and began winding and binding the ribbon around the edge of the rose branch. In a matter of moments before the merchant’s eye he had produced a single, perfect red rose bud. The merchant looked at it with an amazement that begged the craftsman to speak.

“I have soaked and dried the stem in rosewater so that when it is placed in a vase with water is will not only smell like a rose but will cause the bud to open to its fullest bloom.”

As if to prove himself the craftsman took a silk tulip from his stock and placed it in a glass of water. Slowly the flower opened up and the gentle smell of tulips seemed to burst forth and fill the shop.

“Miraculous!” said the merchant. “What will such a thing as this rose cost me?”

“Well…” the craftsman considered. “I am looking for a wife. You bring this rose home and your daughter would be willing to meet with me I would consider that payment enough. If she will not meet me than we can arrange a fair amount the next time you come to town.”

The merchant was pleased with this offer, for not only would he return home with a rose for his daughter but he stood to gain a brilliant (and by all accounts handsome) craftsman as a son-in-law. At home his two older daughters loved their gifts but when the youngest daughter saw the rose she scoffed.

“You didn’t bring a paper dress or toy shoes home for my sisters, but you mock me with a ball of ribbon on a stick?”

The merchant begged her to wait until her could show her the majesty of the craftsman art. He placed the rose in a vase and, as promised, the bud sprang open and the air filled with the gentle caress of roses. The older girls were impressed but the younger daughter smirked.

“A clever parlor trick, but it isn’t any closer to being the rose I asked for. I trust you didn’t spend too much on this.”

The merchant explained the terms of his agreement with the craftsman and this time all three girls laughed.

“Oh father!” said the oldest.

“You honestly don’t think us so desperate that we would need to have our marriages arranged, do you?” said the middle daughter.

“Seriously,” said the youngest, “You would trade my happiness for this? Find this craftsman the next time you are in that town and pay him whatever he demands. There would be no price to high for this lesson.”

It was many months before the merchant returned, but when he did the following summer he found the neighboring town festooned with flowers and decorations all made of the finest silk. The merchant recognized instantly the decorations as the handiwork of the craftsman he sought.

“What is the occasion?” the merchant asked the innkeeper from his previous visit.

“The prince is getting married today.”

Satisfied with this explanation the merchant went in search of the craftsman to pay both for the rose of his last visit but in compliment for his latest accomplishment in decorating the village. At the craftsman’s quarters he found footmen of the palace exiting with armfuls of bouquets intended for the wedding banquet.

“Excuse me, but can you point me in the direction of the craftsman,” said the merchant. “I have a debt to settle with him.”

“Out of the question,” said one of the footman, “As the prince is busy getting ready for his wedding ceremony.”

The merchant was naturally confused so he returned to the innkeeper for confirmation.

“Indeed! The prince lived among us as a simple craftsman for years without betraying his true station. And today he marries the daughter of a merchant who graciously conceded to meet him in payment for a silk lotus flower he created…”

The merchant fell into an instant funk as he realized his daughter had spurned a prince. He stayed in town for the wedding and in the receiving line he found the craftsman prince recognized him immediately.

“Thank you for attending my wedding, though I suspect by the dour look on your face you have come to settle our accounts.”

“It is unfortunate that my daughter could not appreciate all you had to offer. What will this insult to your highness cost me?”

“It is too joyous an occasion for me to feel insulted. Return home and tell your daughters of all you have learned and we shall consider the matter settled.”

Which he did. And when the merchant’s daughters heard it all they wept for days on end, especially the younger daughter who never married and was buried holding a single rose that had been spun from silk.

And the rose still smelled as sweet as the day it was created.



“The Winter Rose” is adapted from The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes, part of a very long project to adapt and revise all the tales collected therein.

The original of “The Winter Rose” is the Grimm version of the story better known as “La Belle et la Bête” often credited to Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont though hers was an adaptation of a much longer version by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. So I’m just part of a grand tradition of revising and reinterpreting tales!

Actually, it always bothered me that Belle made such a seemingly absurd demand that put her father at such risk. In the Grimm version the father dies before Belle can save him from destitution and death, and she returns to her prince and lives happily ever after. No, no prince for you, Belle, not this time.

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My friend L forwarded me a link to some movie back lots from our home town back in the day. That and another link to a video of Hollywood back in the 1940s and all I kept thinking was how much has changed, how fast things can change, and what this fascination is with tearing things down to make something new. It’s reasonable to expect a home to be built to last, for example, while businesses come and go as success, growth and other factors change the economic landscape. We have to believe in some level of change in order to accept progress.

Even while growing up in Los Angeles I came to hate how the landscape seemed to change before my eyes. Irrationally, the thing that bothers me most is the lost of many of the movie back lots. Imagine, fake buildings that weren’t meant to last longer than the shooting of a movie, repurposed into new backgrounds, new movie towns that would forever exist on film, to be upset that they should be torn down is absurd. Disposable buildings. I guess that’s what makes the movie back lot a perfect metaphor for Los Angeles, a town made by movies, constantly in a state of rebuilding its facades to suit to daily lives of its occupants. As if by tearing down this old restaurant and building a new strip mall somehow didn’t resemble obvious plastic surgery on the face of the city, as if the stretch marks didn’t show and everyone simply smiled and pretended the place looked so much younger as a result.

But is that the difference between a young, vain city like Los Angeles with its artificial tan and dyed hair compared with an old, well-aged city like Paris? Does it come down to the buildings, the sense of acknowledging its history with the grace of a face marked with the character of age lines framed by a stylish silver mane? Do we recognize the old cities from their buildings because of what they were as opposed to the new cities which distinguish themselves through the infinite potential of their youth?

If the attachment to buildings, to the permanence of place is to stake a claim to time and place and the collective history of a city, could not the same thing be said for the desire to publish a book? Do we not also define the architecture of our lives by these miniature monoliths that we erect and house in cities full of bookcases?

I know, I just a giant leap sideways. Mother, may I?

When an author writes and publishes a book are they not unlike the architect and contractor putting up a building? Some of these books are built to last, to stand the rigor of time and the tests of history. They may in time become classics or simply long-lived and well-read. Others are written to be consumed and forgotten, mere back lot facades that exist for the movie of the moment to be held as a memory in the mind of reader but over time pulped by the construction of new memories.

It occurs to me in all this thinking about facets versus facades that the world is essentially divided into two factions of thought, sometimes opposed to one another and other times working in harmony. The playwright sets down the words that are meant to be spoken, setting the scene and the tone, with the performers and director given some leeway in their interpretation, and in this way erects a very permanent building of his or her work. But the audience receives only the performance of the moment, words and images that fill the senses and are carried only as a memory. The artist makes the object to be viewed and builds a body of work that is both public and private, meant to be seen but not necessarily owned, and so we rent the memory of it for as long as we can. It isn’t important that the audience owns a play or a museum piece, only that they enjoy the performance or the viewing. The creators erect a building and its up to the audience and patrons to decide the long-term value.

What bothered me about Los Angeles growing up was this sense of being surrounded by consumers who valued nothing but the consumption of whatever was new. This was often called progress, or the price of progress, this constant change, but deep inside that notion rang hollow. That constant need for something new, for adopting the latest trends, the newest technology, the shiniest geegaw, it looked so much like addiction at times.

Balance is necessary. New and old, in the right proportion. Creator and audience in the right proportion. Book and readership in the right proportion. When it’s all new, all creators, all books, all facade and nothing behind them then all that’s left is Los Angeles.

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I didn’t mean to wind up on a Poetry Friday vacation, but life happens. You end up out-of-state, away from home, out of routines, and the next thing you know you’re trying to redefine your routines.

Summers remind me of the years when I hung out with older kids who could drive and loved movies. They took me on as a mascot to the rep houses and introduced me to the world behind the world, the world of movies filled with adults who were nothing like the ones on TV and certainly unlike my family. It was a lifting of a veil of sorts, full of images that linger with me to this day.

Watching the oh-so-very non-linear The Man Who Fell to Earth I was intrigued by David Bowie’s alien character but when it was over was more struck by the destiny of the Buck Henry character being the one true man who would fall to earth. He stood for something and suffered the fate of his convictions, more than any other character in the film. Bowie’s alien lost his way and suffered but he was allowed to live with that suffering guilt. Henry was punished for his stand, and in those adolescent self-righteous summer nights I felt like life was warning me about what awaited those who dared stand up to power.

Obviously, I’ve learned so much more since about the subtleties of conviction, but at fifteen I felt that door to my mind opening.

two men in helmets
sparkling burnt orange suns
two tawdry, officious suits
hustling buck henry
toward the plate-glass window

a heave and a ho
like tossing a campmate
into the lake
except he bounces back
from the tempered glass
“i’m sorry”
“ah, don’t worry about it.”


through the window
no scream, no fear
only the labored breath
and the knowledge of
the inevitable

a single shoe
liberates itself
at the last moment

barbels chasing
floating despite their weight
through the canyons of high rises

the fall from grace
the corruption of power
the frailty of principle

at fifteen
flickering 24 times a second
these were the lessons
I learned in the dark
from the man
who actually fell

Poetry Friday. Every Friday. This week the round-up is hosted by Libby over at A Year of Literacy Coaching. Plenty of things to read there. Probably none of them as dark as the recollections of my fifteen-year-old self.

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“I had a strange and wondrous dream,” Julianne told her mother upon waking. “In it met a beautiful swan who was unable to fly because it was tangled in yarn. As I collected and balled the yarn the swan became free and flew off into the sky. As it circled overhead the swan said it was a prince caught in an evil spell and he begged me to come free him, then he flew off to who-knows-where.”

“If there’s anyone who can make sense of such things it would be your aunties,” said Julianne’s mother.

“But they’ve each married cannibals!” Julianne cried. “Surely you wouldn’t send me to risk my life simply to learn the message of a dream?”

“Darling one, they’re omnivores, not cannibals. You know that everyone in the world isn’t vegetarian like we are.”

So Julianne packed herself off to visit her aunties in turn, beginning first with Auntie Sun. As she related her dream Auntie Sun sat and rocked with her eyes closed, imagining the scene as is was described to her.

“Yes, yes,” said Auntie Sun, “I can see why this dream left such a strong impression on you. I can only explain part of the dream to you, my sisters will have to explain the rest, but you have to be sure this is really what you want.”

“I do, I do!” said Julianne.

Then Auntie Sun hands Julianne a necklace with a golden ring hanging from it.

“The swan is indeed a prince, that much is clear from the dream. He did not seek you out but he was grateful you found him, and so he shall be if you seek him out now. This golden ring will help you gain access to him.”

Julianne was grateful for her auntie’s help and skipped off to see her Auntie Moon. She told Auntie Moon of her dream and of Auntie’s Sun’s interpretation of the dream.

“Very well,” said Auntie Moon, “I suspect that you like what you heard and wish to hear more? That’s what you have come to me?”

“I do, I do!” said Julianne.

“Very well. The swan-prince of your dream is indeed entangled, bound by a spell of words, but he agreed to the terms of this spell without giving it much thought. If you continue to seek him out the prince will understand the true weight of this spell and will be released. That is all I can tell you, child.”

With this Auntie Moon gave Julianne a bracelet full of green emeralds. “This will help you to weaken the spell, but I must warn you that you put yourself in danger if you proceed. My other sister will explain it to you no doubt.”

Julianne didn’t care about danger. She had reimagined the swan-prince in her mind over and over to the point where he would be worth any risk she might have to undertake. She anxiously went to her Auntie Star and related her dream, as well as the interpretations by her sisters Sun and Moon, and grunted in response.

“My foolish sisters have done you a disservice be filling you head with romantic notions,” Auntie Star said. “This dream is a warning, for you and your swan prince, and no good can come from all this.”

“But Auntie Moon said that my prince is indeed entangled in a spell, and Auntie Sun said he would be grateful that I should find him. Are you saying they weren’t telling the truth?”

“Child, you aren’t seeing the clear picture here. The swan in your dream was grateful, and you did release him, but you yourself said he flew off without you.”

“But clearly he couldn’t stay with me in the dream because he was still bound by the spell in real life. Only his spirit in the shape of a swan could come and show me what was necessary for me to see. Now, what is this danger that Auntie Moon spoke of?”

“There are guardians at the gate of the prince’s palace. Every kingdom has guardians at the gate.”

“Fierce monsters, like dragons and lions?” said Julianne.

“They make take that shape in your mind, but I promise you nothing more than ugly men. You will need to get past them, and when you do is when you will face your greatest danger. That is when you will meet the one who has cast the spell over your prince and as bound him in place. But beware, she will not be what you expect, and in fact you will doubt everything my sisters and I have told you. Nonetheless, she will help you get near enough to the prince that you may undo the spell. Once free, however, the prince will do as he did in the dream and fly off without you.”

“Impossible! Auntie, if everything else turns out to be as you and your sisters have said it then in the end the prince will be mine. Now, what do you have to help me get past the guardians?”

With a weary sigh Auntie Star gave a basket full of stinking cheeses and savory pies made with organ meats. Julianne found the meal revolting but understood the power it would have in attracting the guardians.

“You will see when I return, Auntie Star, that I was right and you were wrong.”

“I hope so, child, for if I am right you will never return.”

Undaunted, Julianne headed off toward the castle on the mountain where Auntie Star said she would find the swan-prince. As she neared the front gate she saw two very large guards whose faces had been scarred and ruined from many a battle. She set out a small blanket like a picnic and unpacked the meats and cheeses and then retreated to a hiding place. In time the guards smelled the food and went to investigate. Satisfied no one was around they presumed it had been set for them through some sort of magic and set in to eating. While they ate Julianne silently crept away and entered the unguarded castle.

Wandering the grounds of the castle Julianne was surveying the palace to determine where the prince might be located when she was stopped by the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.

“Are you lost, dear?” the woman said.

“I have traveled far, following instructions from a dream, and have come to free one who is bound by a spell.”

“Well, then! You should meet my husband, the prince, and tell him of your mission! He will be most astonished!”

Julianne hadn’t thought to wonder if the prince was married and now realized that the beautiful woman, a princess is ever there was one, had been the one that placed the spell over the prince. As they entered the throne room the prince sat up when he saw Julianne enter with his wife.

“Husband, this child has come claiming to have followed instructions from a dream. It is just as you said!”

Julianne was taken aback. The prince had dreamed of her arrival and told his wife? What hadn’t her Auntie’s told her this would be the case, or that the prince was married and that his wife’s spell was surely her beauty? She wanted to escape, to run away, but she had come this far and couldn’t do so without being rude to the prince.

“It is true!” the prince said. “I dreamed a maiden would come and speak to me of having met in a dream, but I fear I don’t understand the rest of it. In the dream you were as you are but I was a large bird and could not understand what you said.”

“A swan, your highness. You were a swan, and…” Julianne was unsure how much to disclose in front of the prince’s wife. “And I could not understand you as well.” A strange welling of guilt caught in Julianne’s throat. She had never lied before, and now she was sure that lying might possibly bring about the dangers she had been warned of. She noticed the princess couldn’t remove her eyes from the emerald bracelet so she removed it.

“In my dream I was to give you this gift. I know not why, but the dream hasn’t led me astray thus far…”

Julianne handed the princess the bracelet and was thanked with a warm embrace.

“It is the most exquisite thing I have ever seen! And to think I feared what you might be when my husband told me of his dream.”

“What was it you feared, your highness?”

“That you had come to steal my prince from me!”

And though they all laughed at such a thought, Julianne’s heart broke inside at the realization that she had been foolish to ignore her Auntie Star, foolish to think a dream like that had only one interpretation.

That night they feasted and Julianne played the part of a gracious guest, promising herself that she would stay a reasonable length of time and then beg her leave in a way that didn’t seem suspicious. As the night wore on the princess insisted Julianne spend the night. While she lay in her bed truing to decide whether or not to leave at first light before everyone else woke up, or to make a more dignified exit later in the morning, Julianne jumped as a secret door of her room opened and the prince entered.

“You and I both know there is more to the dream than we would ever admit in public,” the prince said as he sat on the edge of Julianne’s bed.

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

The prince reached over and pulled out the necklace with the ring on it from beneath her dressing gown.

“Why else would you be wearing this,” the prince said. “In my dream you came to the palace with this ring intended as a wedding band.”

“Impossible,” Julianne said. “You are already married, and to the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

“Yes, but what is beauty compared with the power of a dream that comes true? There is a reason the fates have brought us together like this, and I have to believe this is a powerful magic that supercedes all others.”

Julianne took a breath in an attempt to harness her fear. She smiled and patted the prince’s hand.

“I have a plan” said Julianne. “In the morning you shall offer to take me on a walk and we will use that opportunity to run off together.”

The prince smiled and leaned in for a kiss but Julianne turned away.

“Very well, my sweet Julianne. Until the morrow when we shall be free to fly off together.”

As soon as the prince left Julianne made herself ready to escape the palace and return home under the cover of night. She made it past the sleeping guards at the gate and was about to enter the forest when the princess stepped out from the shadows of the trees.

“I had feared you might not come,” said the princess. “In my dream it wasn’t clear whether or not you would.”

“I don’t understand, your highness.”

“I, too, had a dream. I had a dream that my faithless husband had paid a call on an unsuspecting maiden in her bedchamber and had charmed her into running off together. In exchange she would give me a bracelet of emerald jewels and I was to be satisfied that a fair deal had been struck. I suspect that the dream you shared with my husband had a similar variation on that scheme. But unlike my husband, you and I have chosen not to accept our fanciful dreams as die-cast fate. I suspect this has something to do with the strength of our womanly character.”

Julianne fell to her knees and began to cry. “I’ve been so foolish,” she said. “Please forgive me.”

The princess handed Julianne back the emerald bracelet and begged her to rise. “Further along the trail you will find one of my footmen with a horse. He will accompany you to safety wherever you wish go. If necessary he is prepared to negotiate a fair trade on the value of that bracelet so that you may begin your life anew and in some comfort. He is instructed to stay as long as you need him and to come to me if you should ever require further assistance. And should you find happiness and a husband you are more than welcome to return here for a visit.”

Though it was unheard of to do so Julianne gave the princess a warm embrace and left without another word. She found the footman as promised and together they proceeded to a small village where he was able to acquire a small farm and a fair bit of coin in exchange for the bracelet. The footman stayed on to help Julianne run the farm and they eventually were married. For the rest of their lives Julianne and the princess – and later, queen – exchanged letters to one another and became close friends, though they never saw each other again.

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