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274: The case for religion: It is viable to live by that which cannot be disproven. 275: I have a closet full of unused items labelled Patent Pending. I’ve been meaning to contact the companies to see how it worked out for them. 276: We infantilize our dogs no matter how old they get. 277: Only a clairvoyant optometrist can successfully administer an eye-chart test to a clairvoyant. 278: Travels with Latte (1): Erin, Latte, and I are strolling the tiny Tuscan hill town of Monteriggioni (ringed by towers Dante called “horrific giants”). A woman approaches with a 5-year-old shyly behind: “My daughter fell in love with your dog in Florence!” 279: If Mount Everest weren’t there, we’d have no reason to climb it. 280: Has anyone ever “calmly” sunk two free throws with the game on the line? Has anyone ever “rested comfortably” in a hospital? 281: Early literary influences: Wrestling magazine caption: “A tangle of arms and legs.” Local sportscaster: “He beat him to a pulp. And then he beat up the pulp.” The comma in Alfred E. Neuman’s “What, me worry?” 282: Travels with Latte (2): Erin, Latte, and I are sitting on a boulder in Central Park overlooking the Boathouse Café. A pre-teen girl asks if she can pet our dog, which Latte tolerates. A few hours later, as we wait to cross 92ndand Broadway, a voice through a car window: “Hello, Latte!” The Central Park girl waves as the car turns down Broadway. 283: Prophetic entry from my 8thgrade journal: “In Science we went over chemical equations and actions for how electricity is produced in a dry cell. I don’t get it at all. I doubt if I’ll ever get it.” 284: Fragrance-free aromatherapy for the allergic. 285: When I am nine, I fall prey to a T.V. commercial for a cereal containing, for a limited time only, a lucky charm ring. I want the ring badly. I repeatedly tell my mother the name of the cereal, and, if she forgets, “Make sure you get a box with a picture of the lucky charm ring.” “I know, I know, lucky charm,” she says as she leaves. She returns home and triumphantly, with a “ta da!” pulls out the last item from the last bag: A box of ring-less Lucky Charm cereal. 286: Travels with Latte (3): Erin, Latte, and I are crossing Lucca’s empty Piazza dell’ Anfiteatro, early-morning. We hear a calling voice getting closer: “Latte?...No?...Yes?...Si! Latte!!” It’s Simone, who met Latte in a café a year ago. “Latte forgets, but I remember,” Simone says. Latte wags her tail, and we all start our day with a smile. 287: At the coffee shop, my friend asks the counterman, “If I order a hamburger do I get French fries with it?” “No, if you order a hamburger you get a hamburger; if you order French fries you get French fries....” “…But sometimes you don’t have to ask…” “Here you have to ask.” My friend holds his... Continue reading
Posted Mar 5, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
264: In a high school hallway Michael Brown sidles up to me and whispers in my ear, “Read On the Road it’s the bible.” I don’t know what he’s talking about until I do, and then I do. 265: Older than yesterday younger than tomorrow will be the way it will be until we will no more. 266: In Little League, I hit a bloop single over second base and go to third on a passed ball. The coach whispers in my ear: “The catcher lobs the ball back to the pitcher. As soon as it leaves his hand, you fly home.” I barrel down slide head down, and when I look up, the pitcher is still holding the ball. Later in the game, I wind up on third again, and the manager whispers, “Did you like doing that? Do you want to do it again?” The catcher awaits me with the ball and a grin, and applies a tag so hard the imprint of the seams can still be detected on an MRI of my past. 267: I’ve lost all feeling in my phantom heart. 268: Uncle Fester: meet Mr. Bluster. 269: In the 60s, we’d read that a new Dylan or Beatles or Butterfield album is about to be released and look for it almost daily at Sam Goody’s in the Green Acres mall, first checking the new release display, then scouring the alphabetical bins, one day hitting paydirt, until a salesman tells us that new releases only come in on Tuesdays, robbing us of daily hope in return for one day of either elation or week-long disappointment. 270: Once upon a 2 a.m. in the late 50s, the nice man on the suburban block wakes the neighbors repeatedly screaming: “Let me in! Unlock this door! Let me in!” I am still trying to write the novel. 271: I once wiped away the most beautiful tear in the history of sadness. 272: Soothe the savage beast’s breast. 273: Go to hell. Go to heaven. I don’t care, just get out of here. Continue reading
Posted Jan 28, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
After Hitting Snooze: Once again I am on a talk-show panel, and the host asks questions for which I have witty and insightful answers, often contradicting what another guest says. Once again every time I try to interject, a panelist talks over me, and the host never intervenes on my behalf or calls on me. Once again the longer I am ignored, the angrier I get until I start railing that no one is listening to me. Once again they continue to act as if I am not even there. I don’t know why I keep going back on this damned show. Newspaper editor to irascible reporter in There Goes My Heart: “You have to give me more respect. Or better copy.” The goal of poetry is to split hairs on the heads of however many angels fit on the head of a pin. I teach what I know. My students can cook sensational omelets, fingerpick “Guabi Guabi,” and make my wife very happy. But as I grade the final exams, my mind goes blank: I can’t remember my mother's maiden name, Xavier Cugat’s wives, the infield of the 1954 Brooklyn Dodgers, which corner had the best egg cream in midtown in the 70s, why the Senior Prom ended with everyone thinking I wound up in a ditch, what I said that got me this job, etc. I call my only A+ former student and ask him to grade the exams. He refuses. I am fired and he is hired. I am now in his class doing extremely well because I was one hell of a teacher. The rain is the river coming home. If you can’t follow a rule, enjoy being the exception that proves the rule. The movie theater of my early youth was the Kinema on Pitkin Avenue under the El in East New York, where I had to turn around in my seat during House of Wax, my first—and last—3-D horror movie. Years later a teacher corrected me for pronouncing cinema with a hard c. It happened so gradually I hardly noticed: one day I realized I could tell if it was John or Paul singing lead. Ko-Rec-Type: Two wrongs make a white. This sweet and salty trend has its roots, as far as I know, at Morris’s candy store in Lynbrook in the late 50s when my friend mischievously reached for a pretzel rod from the counter dispenser and dropped it into my malted. 256-261. Faits Divers fromThe Insect Times (with gratitude and apologies to Félix Fénéon) Remains found splattered on the kitchen wall have been identified as fly Bill Smits. Preliminary tests indicate a newspaper slaying. Police will be buzzing the usual suspects. In what is suspected of being a ritualistic cult murder/suicide, every member of the ant colony under the bathroom sink was poisoned. Investigators found traces of the poisonous substance on the feet of the Queen. With a bright future ahead of her, caterpillar Susan Sweet was stepped on last night by... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
245. While in college, my songwriting partner and I bus to Manhattan from Schenectady to audition for Vanguard records. We don’t get a contract and my guitar is stolen from the waiting room. Back in Schenectady, I call the A&R guy we auditioned for (“not ready”) to see if the guitar turned up. “No, but, hey we have insurance. Just come back down and file a police report.” “Not worth the trip down, it was a cheap guitar, a Guava written in the same script as Goya.” “I distinctly remember you had a pre-war Martin D-18.” “Not me…” “All right, if you insist…” Years later I hear the subtext and picture Mr. A&R hanging up the phone and just shaking his head. 246 (The Dr. Facci Fellowship). In 1971 I am rear-ended at a red light, hurt but not injured. The other driver assures me he has good insurance. An actor friend refers me to his “lawyer acquaintance” who got him a quick settlement. “Think of it as the way big companies support the arts.” The lawyer acquaintance hands me a card for Dr. Facci, with a Mott Street address. “Mafia country. The safest neighborhood in the city.” The dusty waiting room is filled with elderly women, but Dr. Facci waves me right in. He looks like the Orson Welles’s character in Touch of Evil ten years later on a really bad day. Ancient medical journals are strewn across his desk with several unmarked bottles of pills. “So, you have a case of whiplash?” “Yes, it hurts when I think.” Dr. Facci looks at me with a weary sadness, then seems to smile a bit, and growls, “Hippie and a smartass. But I’ll take care of you.” He lumbers around the desk, palpates my neck, and tells me to come in every week for six weeks. He jots down a note, hands me some pills, and says, “Here, for when you think too hard,” adding, “Don’t get excited, it’s sugar.” I like Dr. Facci. I enjoy roaming Little Italy each week, lunching on pasta, trying to spot Mafiosi. The waiting room is always full, and Dr. Facci takes me right away, palpates my neck, jots a note, and sends me on my way with a few sugar pills. At first I wonder how his career sunk so low but I come to realize he must provide an essential service to the neighborhood. Perhaps my scam is subsidizing medical care for the elderly. After six visits to Little Italy, I am awarded a $750 Dr. Facci Fellowship. Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Philip Roth made several (unpaid) visits to Columbia MFA classes (through his friendships with David Plante and Benjamin Taylor). He asked if he could have access to the library, so we applied to designate him as a Visiting Scholar. When the request was approved, I gave him directions to where he could pick up his card, and said, "Remember, you can take books home. Then you won't have to come down here every day." Philip looked at me quizzically, and for a few seconds I thought he might not have recognized the quote from Goodbye Columbus. Then he said, with that sliver of a grin I'd seen several times: "Are you referencing a mid-20th Century novelist?" And he went off to get his library card. Continue reading
Posted May 23, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four December 19 It is to our great chagrin that we will not be able to offer you a position, as our operations will be shut down immediately following completion of our open correspondence. There is widespread disagreement as to whether this cessation was precipitated by an inadequacy in our business plan or poor execution thereof. Suffice it to say, we all agree that had you begun this process sooner, the outcome would have been more felicitous. January 2 It was kind of you to surprise us at Chez Avec Amis (you remembered!), and to pick up the check. Bringing the glove was a lovely touch. We are intrigued by your offer, and we feel we have much to contribute. The requisite paperwork is enclosed. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. THE END Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Part One Part Two Part Three October 26 We have finally received completed reports from all those who attended your interview. (It is a good sign that we could barely pry people away from their computers.) We will now disperse into the field. November 9 We have completed a series of meetings with your references. Not unexpectedly in matters of this kind, several issues have arisen. Kindly respond to the enclosed questions. Please understand – as we do – that the quoted material is no more – or less – than one version of the truth. (Two questions were inserted by one of us over the strenuous objections of many.) November 15 We are pleased to tell you that we found your responses quite satisfactory; any new questions raised by your answers, we all agree, are better left untethered. And we are delighted to report that a suitable position has just opened up (please refer to parentheses in previous letter). As you can imagine, there is much paperwork to be done. You shall hear from us before the end of the year. CONCLUSION TOMORROW Continue reading
Posted May 20, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Part One Part Two September 17 Thank you for your interest in our company. Unfortunately, we do not have any appropriate openings at the present time. We shall endeavor to contact you should that situation change. September 23 Please disregard the previous letter, which was the result of a clerical error. We regret any inconvenience. We might add that we found your response quite understandable. October 9 We are pleased to offer you a personal interview. Due to renovations underway in our offices, we invite you to meet us at Chez Avec Amis, a cozy bistro in a quiet corner of town tomorrow at 6 p.m. We have reserved the back room. Directions enclosed. Kindly bring any available photographs from the attached list. We apologize for the short notice, and assure you it is not the result of a last-minute cancellation. October 11 Did you inadvertently happen to wind up with an extra left glove (the designer tag is: Vera Pelle)? CONTINUED TOMORROW Continue reading
Posted May 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Part One September 5 We are in need of additional supporting materials. You should be assured that our request reflects our voracious appetite for reading about you. Now that we are again at full-strength, we lack enough of you to go around, and several of us are feeling bereft. In the event there are no teachers or employers untapped by your extensive dossier, we suggest that you take a temporary position and enroll in an evening course. September 9 Could you provide us with a list of ex-lovers? If so, please describe the physical high and low moments of each relationship, from both points of view. Kindly indicate the circumstances in which each relationship was terminated and who, in your judgment, was at fault. Forgive the personal nature of this request. We are doing our part to ameliorate the blanket of anomie that pervades the workplace. September 14 What is the origin of your last name? Has it been shortened? Your answer will be used for statistical purposes only. CONTINUED TOMORROW Continue reading
Posted May 18, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
May 3 Your application has been received but not yet acknowledged. This response should not be inferred as being anything other than what it says. May 11 We are pleased to acknowledge your application. We will now set out to get a clear sense of who you are. This will take time, as we take nothing and no one lightly. We are nothing if not thorough and we are thorough, which makes us truly something. June 19 We write with the good news (to us– it will come as no news to you) that we have confirmed you are who you say you are and have done what you say you did. Now we address the task of evaluating who you are and what you have done. This is what we get up for in the morning, and what we think about when we fall asleep at night. August 12 Our silence should not be construed as neglect or negativity. We merely misjudged our vacation schedules (we were done-in by unintended consequences of the summer house share) and had a run of ill health (see previous parentheses). We barely have the people power to write these letters. We could use someone like who we think you are. CONTINUED TOMORROW Continue reading
Posted May 17, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
I received a gratifying email from a former Columbia MFA student—now a creative writing teacher—about a chapter in my book The Writing Workshop Note Book (Soft Skull / Counterpoint). I am reprinting the note, followed by an adapted excerpt from the chapter. At my former student’s request, I have removed details that might identify the school and am withholding her name. Hello Professor Ziegler, Our seminar-style classes have students of mixed grade levels—freshmen through senior. Recently, the returning students staged a bit of a mutiny. Three pulled me aside and complained about a lack of “professionalism” in the workshopping abilities of the several new students. Apparently, they felt that their own writing, comments, and insights were much more sophisticated than those of the younger students, and that they, the “experienced” workshoppers, took the process much more seriously, which had led to a desperate crisis. I heard them out and asked them what they thought we could do. They wanted to have an in-class discussion in which they could air their concerns (and, of course, also assert their perceived superiority, I knew). So, for our next class I handed out your first chapter in “Part Two: Notes on Workshopping.” We went around the room, each student taking a turn reading a paragraph or two aloud. Beforehand, I asked them while reading to make note of those sections that rang true to them or felt most meaningful or helped them discover something they didn’t know or felt they could use. (Worth noting: as soon as we finished reading, one of the discontented three closed her packet dramatically and exclaimed, “That was great!”) Afterward I asked each student to share what they learned they might be able to think about or do differently to get the most out of the workshop. We spent 1 1/2 hours of our 3-hour class reading and discussing your chapter, and each student (even those poor terrified freshmen) shared their feelings about their work and experience, ranging from fear of speaking because of feelings of intimidation (without mentioning any names or making eye content) and fear of “not being right” to acknowledgment of tendencies to dominate the conversation (one of those three upperclassman, remarkably). The effects were quite wonderful, and the group left class in bright spirits. So, thank you. I wanted to let you know what had happened so you could add this small moment to what I am sure is a long and continually growing list of success stories directly linked to your approach to teaching writing and to your invaluable notebook, which you so generously shared with all of us. Little did I know at the time how helpful both would be. With my thanks and best regards, (name withheld) Workshop Do’s and Don’ts (adapted from The Writing Workshop Note Book) DO be there. If you are absent you cannot “make up” the work any more than athletes in team sports can make up games they miss. Even if the teacher allows one or two... Continue reading
Posted Jan 24, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
234. As a young reporter in 1970, I was assigned to review a musical billed as a tryout for Broadway. I declared the production a “pleasant enough way to spend a summer evening, but in its current form, it’s not up to bigger and better things.” Always trying to spice my pieces, I concluded that the experience was like being served a full meal of melba toast—you come away “full but not satisfied.” A few days later, while I was reporting for a feature, a young woman recognized my name and said, “Usually these reviews are puff pieces.” She paused and added, “Yours was interesting.” And a few days later, I was interviewing a chamber group that would be performing at the same arts center where the musical was running. One of the musicians recognized my name and said, “The people from the show were talking about you. They hate you.” 235. “I’ve Got to Pass Your House to Get to My House” (written by Lew Brown, sung by Bing Crosby) 236. I spent ten minutes untangling the wires connected to a pair of headphones I put in a drawer alongside assorted wired devices. I do not recall spending any time tangling the wires before I closed the drawer. I have spent several hours of my life untangling wires, and I have never consciously tangled anything. It must be something I do. 237. In the mid-1970s I saved up to buy a reconditioned IBM Selectric II typewriter, the typesetting machine of choice for non-funded small magazines. The characters populated a tiny globe called an element. If you smooshed two keystrokes, the machine would remember which order you hit them and space the letters evenly on the page. (In effect, the Selectric had a RAM of one bite.) Writer friends came over to use my Selectric; someone commented, “Wow, I didn’t know civilians were allowed to have these.” I was told when I bought it that I would need to have a service contract with IBM because there’s a thin cable connected to a “gear shift” that tends to snap. And snap it did, every few months, but one quick call would result in an IBM repairman showing up, sometimes the same day; for the first time, I felt cared for by a giant corporation. When I took a writer-in-residence position at the Interlochen Arts Academy in northern Michigan, I didn’t think I could write without my Selectric. I had it shipped, and a couple of weeks into the term I returned to my cottage to find the box on my porch. I plugged it in, got the motor humming and started to type. Snapped cable. The nearest service center was downstate, hours away. The next day a serviceman drove up and fixed the cable. Before long, people were knocking on my door to use my typewriter. 238. Molly Bloom: “Excuse bad writing am in hurry. Byby.” 239. On the way toward a glorious rainbow, a snake in the grass came... Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Wow--what a fascinating movie! I wish I'd known to ask her about it. Thanks!
Thanks so much, Grace. This means a lot to me!
224. After my mother died, my father liked to visit the geese at the local pond. One day, a goose was frantically scooting about, yipping plaintively like a dog. “Geese are monogamous,” I said. “I think he got separated from his mate.” My father grew as agitated as the goose, looking around to see if he could spot the mate. Finally, the geese found each other and entered the pond. My father wept. 225. If you want to capture the sea, hold your hands out, cupped, and imagine you are writing this. 226. My father on line at the Post Office takes a step backward onto a woman’s foot. “Ooooh pain,” she says sweetly. He loves telling the story. 227. I watched a master dance class taught by the choreographer Bella Lewitsky, during which she asked students to execute a series of steps from one end of the dance floor to the other. Whenever a student faltered and lapsed into a sheepish gait, Lewitsky would command, “Finish the line.” 228. My mother and I sip coffee as Richard Harris’s “MacArthur Park” comes on the radio. Some people find the song and performance sappy, but it always grabs my guts and I drift off into sweet pain and longing. My mother is quiet, too, and when the instrumental kicks in she says, “I can really relate to this song—losing the recipe for a cake.” From then on, I will be an even bigger sap for that song. 229. When you are on a collision course with a stranger on the street or store aisle, the two of you choreograph a little dance and move on. Lately, I have been having more than my share of dance partners, usually ending with bows and smiles. But not today: I reach a supermarket corner—a one-way aisle with two-way traffic—and encounter a suited man. One of us will have to do the back steps of a supermarket cha-cha. He barrels through, declaring “I don’t negotiate.” Later, I am about to enter a subway car just as a huge Bronze Age sculpture of a man is about to get out. Before we can dance, he declares: “You’d best get out of my way, sonny.” If they won’t dance, I can’t make them. 230. In the hospital elevator, with my father after the confirming diagnosis, down to the ground floor, door won’t open. “Al, do something,” he implores, his claustrophobia cutting off oxygen. I push buttons randomly and the door opens. I did something, we got out. There’s nothing I can do. 231. Julie London's "Cry Me a River." Coltrane's run of notes after the bass solo in “A Love Supreme.” The third movement of Tchaikovsky's Third String Quartet. Pete Seeger's spoken introduction to "Living in the Country" on his Bitter and the Sweet album. 232. Open your eyes to see. Close them to see again. 233. There was a tree in the middle of the road. I swerved to avoid it and went crashing into open... Continue reading
Posted Nov 22, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
214. In college, a friend told me he overheard someone say, “I don’t like Ziegler’s type but I like Ziegler.” 215. An essay on the electronic media: You can't tell the time by looking at the newspaper. 216. Here’s a story I used to tell a lot: “In the late 1960s, I was eating lunch in Washington Square Park when I saw a bum asleep under a tree. I quietly placed half of my corned beef sandwich next to him, then went back to my bench, hoping he would wake up before I had to leave. He stirred, unwrapped the sandwich, peeked under the bread, scowled, and pulled out a jar of mustard from his coat pocket.” Everyone enjoyed the story, though no one believed it is true. It is—as far as I know. 217. Why we need gun control: When I was eight, I got into a fight I was bound to lose. Impulsively I took the wad of bubblegum out of my mouth and rubbed it in the kid’s hair. He ran home crying. Later, his mother came to our house, furious, and told my parents her son now has a bald spot where she had to cut away. 218. The guy across from me on the Long Island Railroad can barely keep his eyes open. The cuffs of his pants are fringing, his shoes have been mended with black tape, and he seems long past drunk. The conductor approaches, “All tickets, please!” The man fumbles through his pockets, then shrugs. “You don’t have a ticket, do you?” the conductor says, and the man shakes his head. The conductor pulls a schedule out of his pocket, punches a few holes in it, and places it in the slot on the man’s seat. He continues on his rounds. 219. Miles Davis: “I never think about not being able to do anything. I just pick up my horn and play the hell out of it.” 220. The summer of 69 I came across vending machine that sold water for 25 cents a gallon. I took a picture of it to prove that such a thing existed. 221. William G. Hutherton on Chamfort: “A few months’ nomad existence in Normandy with two other scapegraces followed, and then the prodigal returned, was forgiven and became an abbé.” 222. My gun is made of glass; I will only be able to use it once. My knife is rubber; it will work until I try to use it. My bomb has a short fuse I can’t outrun. My hypodermic needle is loaded with placebo, which I can only use as a truth serum on those who trust me. I am a one-man army, armed to the teeth. But I am one nervous wreck, so don’t mess with me. 223. I stand in front of my own door and push the bell repeatedly with one hand while banging with the other. Laughing as I push faster and bang harder. “Open up!” I yell. “Open up,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 14, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
204. February 1967, Union College frigid quad, “Light My Fire” full blast from dorm open window. After the organ intro, “Light My Fire” from another room—a Doors round. Fraternity guys stop to listen. My folk music friends and I stop to listen. More dorm windows open. Someone yells, “Blow My Mind.” 205. All the world’s a stage but how many players are off book? 206. My mother can no longer speak, but her eyes listen. This may be my last chance. “I want you to know that I learned a lot from you about being a teacher. I watched you working the counter at Woolworths. You put on the extra piece of lettuce for the old lady who never left more than a quarter tip even though your boss said not to give extra food. You were always watching, you were always listening, and you always cared. I try to be that way and people tell me I’m a good teacher.” If the eyes are truly the window to the soul, I can see from their shimmer that my words have reached her soul. I will never be sure of what I see next: The shimmer seems to turn into a vapor above her and is gone. The next day, so is she. 207. On the bus a man talks to a young woman while his ten-year-old daughter tries to listen. When the woman gets off the bus, the man explains, “That was one of my students.” The girl asks, “Is she the one who stole your ideas?” 208. Perhaps the first electronic blogger was Will Rogers, who—from 1926 to 1935—submitted short newspaper pieces via telegram from wherever he happened to be: LONDON, Aug. 25.—France is very quiet. The rise in taxes was only proposed. Deer season opened in Scotland for all those who can’t hit grouse. Debts and dictators quiet today. Rogers often composed quickly and submitted his copy unedited. 209. Summer 1969 working for the Riverside Press-Enterprise, I cover a folksinger’s visit to Chino State Prison. She sings Dylan’s “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” (“And picking up angel who just arrived here from the Coast”). I interview a burly prisoner wearing the prison uniform of blue jeans and work shirt. He tells me he’s a Hells Angel, and I ask if he’ll go back to the Angels when he gets out. He replies, “It’s a lifetime thing.” He has a question about one of the songs: “That thing about picking up the angel—was she singing about a Hells Angel?” “Yeah, you could interpret it that way.” His face softens. “That’s what I thought. I felt a touch of apathy in my chest when I heard that." 210. Prose poems can be quick, which is not to say rushed. A person who is rushed is often careless and forgetful of details. The race goes to the swift who stay on their feet. But if you do fall—fall gloriously and capture that pose. 211. Our houseguest opens the refrigerator and... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
194. Just to be on the safe side: A pigeon and I cross the street with a green light. A left-turning car looms, slows to a crawl ceding us the right of way. The pigeon and I hop-trot to the corner. 195. Your clothes lie undressed of you on the bed. 196. On the edge of my peripheral vision, the woman’s hand swoops down and the small child screams. I turn: a beach ball descends and the child squeals, “Mommy do it again!” 197. Butterfly flutters / in early autumn sun glare / to grass and stays….leaf 198. I keep forgetting to cancel my Wednesday doctor appointment. Monday 2 a.m. I remember and call the service. I am told: “Your appointment isn’t until Wednesday!? Why can’t you call the office tomorrow? I'm very busy here.” 199. Today I saw two who looked like but were not you. 200. Baudelaire: “Eternal superiority of the Dandy. What is a Dandy?” 201. Erin and I with our dachshund Latte in the tiny hill town of Monteriggioni (ringed by towers Dante called “horrific giants”). A woman approaches with a 5-year-old shyly behind. “My daughter fell in love with your dog in Florence!” 202. My father liked his coffee dark, very dark. He’d open the wrong side of the milk container and let a few drops dribble into the cup—a technique he learned from his mother, who didn’t realize it was the wrong side. 203. Why William Burroughs wouldn’t push the button on my tape recorder at the beginning of his talk, preferring that I come up and do it myself: “I don’t like to fool with other people’s machines.” Continue reading
Posted Oct 25, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
184. She broke his heart in two. Then she quartered it. But each portion regenerated. Now he could run for miles, make love, weep at a sad movie, and still have one cold heart for her. In a dream of drowning, his life flashed before his eyes. She wasn’t there. 185. How many individual French fries were consumed in the past hour by someone other than the person who ordered them? 186. My first writing café was The Balcony on the east side of Broadway and 107th Street, with a life size mannequin of Genet’s Madam Irma on the balcony above the bar. Another writer was usually there when I arrived and still there when I left. The French waiter would fill my coffee at the exact right intervals. After about six months, the other writer nodded hello. After about a year, he asked me what I was working on. 187. In college, a friend says “I’m horny and I thought about fucking you, but I knew you wouldn’t because of your girlfriend. You put a circle around yourself. You’ll do anything within that circle, but you won’t even consider going outside of it.” I tell her that I am always working on widening that circle. She replies: “You’ve missed the entire point.” 188. On the bus, a six-year-old taunts his younger brother, who has been allowed to sit on their mother’s lap while he has to stand: “I’m gonna grow up before you.” 189. What my dying mother misses: “If only I could walk from room to room.” 190. In the diner from behind me they bickered, then a jarring noise like a chair being overturned. “Aren't you going to pick it up?” No response. “Stupid old man.” And that was the last I heard from them. On my way out, I almost tripped over the cane. 191. Song lyric: You set me up just to knock me down / You could win a prize in the carnival 192. No word Monday. No word Tuesday. No word Wednesday. Thursday just words. 193. Now, while the time since your death is still counted in weeks, I'll be walking along and there, just beyond the ability of my eyes to distinguish faces, I'll see someone who looks like you, and for a few milliseconds my brain will form your face. At first it was a little unnerving, but I've come to look forward to and treasure those milliseconds, and I will mourn them when they are gone. Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
169. He believed her orgasms were authentic, but he suspected she was faking her compassion: “Oh. Oh. Oh. Yes. Yes. Yes. You poor thing, you!” 170. Within the past hour, how many people passed a stranger on the street whom they once passed on a street in another city? 171. The guy who used to sit on the bench is long gone. The bench is short gone. I miss him even more. 172. The softball team is coached by an English teacher and a social studies teacher. The English teacher misses an away game, the first I start at second base. The next day the two teachers huddle over a piece of paper. “How did the second baseman do?” “He did all right.” 173. At the flea market: “No, the Buddha by the bike, not the bike by the Buddha!” 174. The infinite wisdom of a circle. 175. The last phrase of Baudelaire’s “Dog and the Flask” (the title is also translated as “The Dog and the Vial” and “The Dog and the Scent Bottle”) is des ordures soigneusement choisies, which has been translated as “carefully raked-up mire,” “dung, chosen with care,” “carefully chosen sweepings,” “carefully selected scraps of nastiness,” “carefully selected garbage,” “meticulously selected garbage,” and “carefully selected crap.” And in Baudelaire’s “The Stranger” (also translated as “The Foreigner”), one of the speakers uses the familiar tu and the other the formal vous. It is impossible to capture this in English, though a Spanish translator would have no problem. 176. Part of me must be a damn genius or part of me a moron, because it’s oh so easy to outsmart myself. 177. Walking down the freezing street with a pizza box blanketing my hands, I've become one of those people I always envy. 178. My mother lies in the hospital bed with radium inserted into her abdomen, trying to kill the killer. She cannot move. Visitors cannot stay long because of the radiation. She tells us this story: “An older woman peeked in, wearing a volunteer’s outfit. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ the volunteer said. ‘Do you remember me? From when you were up on the sixth floor? I was just up there, looked for you, and something pulled me to come down here. I’m sure it was to tell you that everything will be all right.’ I asked her name. ‘Sadie.’ My mother’s name, and I never met another Sadie after she died. And she came down from ‘up there’ to tell me everything will be all right.” My mother laughs, for the first time in weeks, and for the last time. 179. In East New York we sit on the stoop waiting for the street fight. Not our battle—this one for the younger kids. From the next block comes the swarm, outnumbering our friends. We look at each other and attack screaming. “Look out, it’s the big kids,” someone shouts, and they run off. We are in third grade and I will never feel this big again. 180.... Continue reading
Posted Oct 9, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
I appreciate this enormously! There will be a book--hopefully there will also be a publisher.
Thanks, Stacey! I love that Briscoe / Van Buren scene!
Gorky wrote in My Universities: “I do not like the moon.” As for me, I adore the moon, in all its phases. I spent a year building a boat that could take you back to me. When I finished, I took it apart and sent you the pieces. I stare at the moon as Neil Armstrong walks on it. I can’t fathom how humans made this possible, but know that the process started with the earliest living organisms and followed a complex set of instructions relayed in pieces through the ages. The sun is always out. The moon is always full. The parrot sits on her shoulder in the third row of the off-off-off-Broadway play, silent for the first scene, then increasingly cranky. As they leave during intermission, she says gently to the parrot, “I’m so sorry I should have never brought you here” Walking home from third grade on a chilly Fall afternoon, I see a circle of kids surrounding a fight. Most of them are shouting, “Come on, Babes,” “Get him, Babes.” Babes is a fourth grade bully. I despise and fear him and stay out of his way. He has the fight well in control, but is making sure not to dominate so much that even he would have to stop. Babes pins the other kid’s shoulders with his knees as he checks out the crowd. He glares at me and I start yelling, “Come on, Babes.” Babes bangs the kid’s head a couple of times into the dirt and nods at me as he slowly gets to his feet. At anti-war rallies many years later I won’t be able to chant. I arrive ten minutes early for a 2 p.m. dental checkup. Several people are in the waiting room. In my discreet sweep of the room—no eye contact—I sense familiarity, which doesn’t surprise me as I have been coming here for many years. At 2 p.m., a man stands up and enters the office area without being called, followed by the others. The last woman to leave the waiting room turns to me and says, “Come on in, Mr. Ziegler,” and, as I do, I see that the man has put on a white smock and become my dentist. On the corner of 72nd Street and Broadway in July, a man in a long black coat comes running to me, desperation in his eyes. “Do you know what happened?” he implores. “Where?” I ask. The man looks at me incredulously and shrieks, “Anywhere!” He runs off before I can think of an answer. I am making a list, should we meet again. Jason Robards in All the President's Men: "Run that baby" (double tap, clap) Father and son on Mothers Day in the tiny hospital cafeteria. The father orders a ham and Swiss on rye, adding, “Could you put mayo on one side and mustard on the other?” The son has always chosen one or the other, never fully satisfied. The father has taught a life... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
A child watches with delight as the worker bangs away at plaster: loud noise, destruction, making a mess—and it’s all right with everyone. In our first stay in Paris, each night I stop at La Tonnelle, the grocery store across the street, where I can never get the right money to the grizzled man in the apron. I have taken to holding out my hand with all my coins, a beggar in reverse. He riffles through and selects the correct change, and I shrug and say, “Merci, désolé.” Tonight all I have is a 50 franc note (with a picture of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry), and he says his first English words to me: “You don’t have seis francs?!” He gives me back 44 francs in various sizes, shapes, and textures: silver, gold, silver and gold. I study them before I go to sleep, and practice fishing by feel through my pocket for different combinations. The next night I place two large bottles of Badoit on the counter, reach into my pocket, and hand the grizzled man several coins adding to18 francs. He counts with his eyes, smiles, and bows. Zasu Pitts. In the 1970s, one of my roommates works for EMS but never talks about what he does. One night, we’re all watching the local news. The reporter describes a triple murder in the Bronx, and says, “One of the victims was dead at the scene, the other two died at the hospital.” “Two were dead at the scene,” my roommate says under his breath, “and the other one died in the ambulance.” Orson Welles in Touch of Evil: “Well, didn't you bring me any donuts [beat] or sweet rolls?” Ben Kingsley in Betrayal: “Ah. Yes. I thought it might be something like that, something along those lines.” Feeling miserable about myself and everything I stand for and miserable in the March bone-chill that permeates my marrow, I make my way to the front of the 104 bus dreading the walk up the hill against the wind. I feel a sting on my back of my head and turn to see a deranged man eyeing me with disdain. I process the sensation and realize I have just been whacked upside the head. I stare him down. “What took you so long?” I ask, and descend into the bitter night. Librarian to Briscoe and Curtis on Law and Order: “Verlaine popped Rimbaud. Paul loved Arthur. Paul also loved Matilda. It was a whole mess. The French—what do you expect?.... If you really want decadent, I’d stick with Baudelaire.” Baudelaire: “Orgy is not the sister of inspiration; inspiration is absolutely the sister of daily effort.” Continue reading
Posted Sep 21, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
In 1957 Bobby Darin introduced me to Paul Anka. In 1875 Stéphane Mallarmé, carrying a large portfolio, wanders the streets of London looking for Algernon Swinburne, intent on discussing their shared admiration for Edgar Allan Poe. In the portfolio is Mallarmé’s translation of “The Raven” and illustrations by Eduoard Manet. Two things my mother used to say: “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” and “Like this you kill a day.” “It’s a great life if you don’t weaken” is attributed to John Buchan in 1919, and later appropriated into a song made famous by Faron Young and Maurice Chevalier. “Like this you kill a day” seems to be hers. You are so close to the way I want someone to look that I see you different when not around. Then you show up and I think, “What have you done to yourself?” Francis Williams—who played trumpet with Duke Ellington—started out as a pianist in his hometown, Toledo. Williams thought he was pretty good until he met a neighbor who was so much better. Realizing he wasn’t even the best in the neighborhood, Williams changed instruments. His neighbor’s name was Art Tatum. While my dentist waits for his assistant to join us for a procedure, we start exchanging reminiscences, having lived through some common times. Eventually he realizes the assistant has been in the room for several minutes, silently impatient. “Stories,” he explains to her with a sweet, wan smile. “Stories.” If Yankee Stadium had no fences, would a ball that lands in Montreal be fair or foul? Charles Laughton was plagued by self-doubt, especially during the 1937 filming of I, Claudius, which was never completed. Laughton would put his head in co-star Merle Oberon’s lap and weep, “I can’t find my character. I can’t find the man.” Years later, one of the other actors lamented that Laughton “needed sun and got frost” from the director. Who among you agrees that Larry Keating is an underrated comic actor? Hemingway wrote in the Closerie de Lilas in Paris, equipped with bluebacked notebooks, pencils, and a pencil sharpener on a marble-topped table; he carried a horse chestnut and a real rabbit’s foot in his right pocket for luck. Peter Altenberg wrote at Café Central in Vienna, which he used as his mailing address; his presence continues to be felt—and seen—in the form of a dapper statue seated at a table. In the 1920s, Borges spent Saturday evenings at tertulias hosted by Macedonio Fernández at Café Perla in Buenos Aires. Mid-winter, late Sixties, late-night Adirondack Trailways to Schenectady. A teenager strums a guitar across from me. We talk music and he offers his guitar. I strum an E Major Seventh easing into an A Major Seventh, over and over. “Whoa, what was that!?” “Magic Major Sevenths,” and he strums them, over and over. Years later I see his name listed as a sideman on an album. No doubt he thinks of me fondly and often. Continue reading
Posted Sep 19, 2017 at The Best American Poetry