Sacred Cows

I opened the barn door to the sacred cows,

set open the gates,

and let them out to pasture.

Sweet, placid, not a care in the world—

“Behold—it is just a cow.”

Yes, a cow—content, chewing cud.

Pissing, shitting, eating, sleeping.

Swishing away flies. Large liquid brown eyes.

We milk them. And milk them. And milk them.

A cow is just a cow. Is a cow.

Cow doesn’t care about you.

Cow doesn’t care about rituals.

Cow doesn’t give a crap about religion.

Cow doesn’t give a fuck about politics.

Cow doesn’t give a shit.

A cow is just a cow. Is a cow.

Now that they’re all out,

I shut the barn door.


A little something I’ve been tinkering with for quite a spell, a mash up with Honey Badger and other stuff…it’s not quite finished, I just added a few lines and moved one around so it’s still a work in progress, but I wanted to put it someplace…


Updated poe-em…

Things I wish I never knew,

and I will be normal.

I have ceased to question the sky,

the sun and the moon,

the stars. Ancient constellation dramas,

celestial phases, solstices and equinoxes.

Eclipse. Time moves on. Ask—why?

All these questions, I’ll make up the answers—

ingenious fictions about nothing. No one.

Not me. Whisper—sigh.

Sighs and whispers. Secrets. Plots.

How good do you have

to be—to be considered a “good person”?

We grow. Above and beyond the child we once

were. Partially – complete.

I have always been aware of how I break,

customarily in half, like everyone else—

tho’ sometimes in thirds—or fives.

No, actually, that would be in fifths.

I prefer odd numbers. That solitary odd one

would be me. Leftover. Left behind. Single.

Solitary. Alone. In the end, we all die alone.

Thankfully, I have you.

I love you more

than there are fishes in the sea

and stars in the sky.

True story. No lie.

Is there such a thing as too much love?

Relative — relativity. Dreams and realities.

Layers and layers of life in colors;

muddy the waters. Shades of gray.

Shed and tear – Tears and skin.

The things that hurt.

A bird hit the window—

trying to escape, knocked senseless.

I cradle its soft life in my hands,

it’s safe with me until it comes to;

some do, some don’t—wait

and see. Black beads blink,

feathers flutter—fly away. Be free.

Stream of consciousness—a sunbeam

through the broken window pane.

Go. Go on. Move on

to the new version of normal.

Let’s transcend.


This poe-em was originally written in 2012, a small bit of it is featured in my upcoming novel Drinking from the Fishbowl as something my character Georgia Sullivan jotted down. I tweaked it a little bit this morning, and decided to post it this morning to clear the decks and make way for more things…lots on my mind, lots on my plate.

Keeping warm, the snow is melting, must watch out for icy patches tho’. Watching the birds at the feeders.

I want to believe Fishbowl is finished, closer to being ready to publish. I powered through the last chapters of Part 1, found only a couple of things to fix, which is always disappointing, but I’m always surprised by what I’ve done. I hope to dig into the first chapter of Part 2.

Happy thoughts.

The Chronic Need for a Magic Bullet…

11 15 2014

I’m posting this long poem just because it needs to be…the opioid epidemic has hit home for me because a friend’s son, only 21, died from an overdose of heroin. A young man with so much potential, so much to give to those around him, gone far too soon. Today was his funeral. The back of the room was a line up of his college friends who drove all the way from Bar Harbor, Maine to Dewitt, New York in a snowstorm to celebrate his life. It was a very moving celebration. He lived with chronic pain, he had a rare genetic disease, Pachyonychia Congenita. And because I deal with chronic pain myself, I have been made vulnerable to the wish for a magic bullet to take the pain away. Thankfully, I was able to escape it because in my own sense of self and fucking kick ass determination to live, I was not going to allow myself to be overcome by this insidious prescription death sentence. I’m sorry it’s such a long, long, long poem…it’s hardly a poem…whatever it is, this is it, and for what it’s worth, I hope that it will help someone who needs it. Or to help someone to understand…

The Chronic Need for a Magic Bullet (revised and rewritten many times, this is the version created on 6/10/2016)

I had no idea   what was wrong with me,       I felt terrible,  which translates to worse than usual, because     feeling fatigued           and achy          happens to be              my daily chronic   pain package.                         Problem is       I didn’t feel right.        My heart    was doing whacky things, and            it felt like I must’ve pulled a muscle in my right shoulder—         sort of kind of—whatever,     it was               weird.             I was tired, no damn big surprise,    I’m always tired.        I felt sick         and I was             scared,

really scared.

It was the

kind of sneaky

sort of thing

that causes you to ask

“Is this what it’s like to die?”

I went to the doctor.   I wore a Holter monitor for 24 hours.            Nothing           like being even more aware           of my heart beating.                The cardiologist said,             nothing out of the ordinary for a        50 something year old woman,           a little heart murmur                 not new news,             it’s very common.       I felt silly,             like I was wasting       this man’s time. I try to avoid taking medication       my pain management is    ruled by a mind-over-matter determination               and fueled by a stubborn

“Fuck-it, I got shit to do” attitude.

Take an NSAID or two,          chase it            with a drenching of water       and get some rest…

A few days later,         the skin           around my ribcage tingled,     then     it burned, it ached, deep and clenching     like      a weird heart attack,   but on the       wrong side.             As soon as I saw the rash,                   I knew.


 Nobody           thought of that,           I’m too young             for that shit.

I called my doctor.

Hydrocodone              Gabapentin     and antivirals,             days spent lying around, buzzing on strong medicine, feeling itchy,    but not daring              to scratch.             Bathing in warm colloidal oatmeal baths,      babying myself.          Taking it easy,                healing,           getting well. The problem is,             when the rash             finally cleared off,      the PHN pain              stayed

for an extended visit.

This is normal, so I’ve been told.

It can go away in a few weeks

or linger for a year

or more

who knows.

Maybe longer.

I had    a bad case, so it is      possible           that it can go on awhile.         Awhile can be a mighty long time—                     something akin to                   forever.

More Hydrocodone

with Gabapentin         at night to help me sleep.

I waited to get better   accepting         the latest version of normal.            I didn’t feel like          doing anything.           I didn’t paint, I struggled to write.        No appetite,                no drive,             no desire—

I felt dim.        I only wanted to soak in hot baths,    maybe             read a book,            watch a movie.            I struggled       to carry on life            like normal,     in spite    of it—

I struggled       to do    the simplest things.     I had to remind myself            to breathe.                                   Sometimes I was afraid          I might stop breathing.

It wasn’t like I had                  nothing to do.

It wasn’t as if I was on disability,      sitting on my ass         doing nothing              all day

I work full time,          8 hours a day, 5 days a week

my writing books and making art

is what I do outside of that     5/40 period that I’m paid        to think            about things that are not personally mine, but                    I take ownership of     and I take pride in             what I do,

so screwing up            because my brain chemistry   is being rewired by     prescription drugs

is unacceptable..

I am paid to think.

Thinking         was becoming a prime piece of mental real estate     that I feared was starting to get out of my price range as I was functioning in a         vague sort of             normal that I adjusted to accept          because of       the fear            of pain.             I waited to                   feel better.

More Hydrocodone.          More Hydrocodone.                Refill the Gabapentin.

More Hydrocodone.

More Hydrocodone.

Then one day              the Hydrocodone stopped working.    Imagine that…

How can it be possible?

The pain was worse,                           getting worse.

I had just called           for a refill        a week ago.     I remember feeling the slight panic            when the pills were     getting             low.     I counted them                        calculating how many days    I had left       before I was out.         I recognized it             for what it is—            addiction            that gnawing need. I used to count cigarettes             anxiously—how many left?             I was advised  to stop taking             the Hydrocodone                    take the Gabapentin alone.       I’ve been taking it every night for seven months,      I should be             “used to it” by now, right?      Life went on easier said than done. Problem is I didn’t know     my       ass from my elbow                 it was a struggle          to think straight…        By this time,   I was feeling scared that I might        not be able to keep my job             if I continued like       this, I was an absolute mess.   I stayed home from work because I was too sick,

upset stomach,

disgruntled bowels,

dizzy head,


joints on fire,

legs twitching,

restlessly pacing, unable to land,

I was tired,

but barely able to sleep

the PHN pain burned,



and      begged

like a nagging pain will do—

 Please give me something for this pain

(exclamation point.)

If possible, the pain was worse than ever.      I wanted to die            or thought I might die

there was a fine line    down the middle of     how I felt,       my poor head             was so muddled,    tired—            no,       exhausted.

 Who am I?

What have I become?

Is this how it’s going to be      for the rest of my life?

It’s in black and white—

the benefits


the side effects,

and the

side effects

may go away

the longer,

the longer—

the longer

I wait—patiently;


mustn’t stop

taking the


without consulting—

“Fuck-it, I’ve got shit to do.”

Seven months too long,          I           want    my       life       back.

The next morning,      I started a new day                  A day with no pills.    I made a quality of life decision,           put up with the pain    and consequences       to save my brain                My life. I have felt better ever since. My head is clearer.     Most important, I feel like living. Yes,       I still have the PHN pain, but the pain fluctuates from    nothing to report        to an annoying itch,                unnerving numbness,             intense burning,          weird spasms, and crushing pain without rhyme or reason,             it’s enough to drive me bat-shit,         but I ride it out through my own stubbornness.  THE PAIN IS SO MUCH LESS        than when I was popping pills                         that stopped working.             It’s as if the pills         made the pain worse, as if      the pills were engineered        to beg for       more               or they

promised more.

Insidious shit.

Someone’s making money     hand over fist peddling this crap        to people             patiently waiting         for their pain               to get               better.              Let me tell you      this

it’s not engineered to cure you.

There is no magic bullet         contained in that         little brown bottle       with the trendy

“feel good”     pink Breast Cancer Awareness cap.   Just like millions of other people,             I fell

for the damn

snake-oil lie.


all of them.

I’ve been robbed

Seven months of my life         are gone          because of painkillers—even small doses             have the          potential to be big problems.              I was robbed of me               I was robbed   of my creativity                      the things that made me


That’s seven months               I will   never get back.            Never trumps awhile.

There’s too many people         on pharmaceutical band-aids.                         Too many people            are not being properly seen to because           a 5-minute telephone conversation asking “Is it still bothering you?” isn’t enough.       Too many people        are ignorant             of what’s happening   to them because of      the pill they believe in.           Too many people   are in trouble  because they


something       for the pain.

To make it

go away.

You have to be your own        advocate.        If you              give a shit        about your life,

educate yourself.         Trust yourself. Don’t              blindly rely on someone else  to have your best interests          on their            TO DO checklist…    I’m drug free.             I’m still sick.

Shingles suck.             Chronic pain stinks.

Fuck it,                        I’m bigger than that.

Intensive Care by Janet Frame

Intensive Care

Eagle Street, Waipori City, South Island, New Zealand, the World. (page 31)

Decades. Generations. Wars. The Livingstone family pear tree stands, grows, flowers, produces fruit.

Breathe in the gas mask, father, or the poisonous air like a scorpion stings your lung. (From page 210, tho’ it is repeated many times throughout the early half of the book.)

 Life and death. Dreams and realities.

Surreal. Who is declared human, who is declared animal. Who will live, who will die. The Livingstone family pear tree has grown, twisted and old, enjoyed by many as it flowers, produces fruit, gives shade, and shelter, until it is seen as a danger when a branch falls off, and is seen as a nuisance because the roots can cause trouble with the sewer lines; the tree is cut down.

…what was a tree anyway when the human race was threatened? (page 292)

What a strange book, at times terrifying, other times humorous, sometimes beautiful, and then back to the terror—I love it. It is dream-like, and often the unreality of it suddenly feels too real, just because if you let your mind wander a little bit to peek a wee bit over the fence into history, and if you pay a visit to the current events of our time, it becomes painfully clear how human nature can be cruel.

Janet Frame leads the way into a world post WWI, and shines her light into the soul of humanity. Obsession and loneliness. Growing old. Dying a natural death. Murder. The next generation, and the next after that, are just as lonely, just as obsessive, and disturbed. The world changes, and the people fall behind and wait n’ see, while distant governments make the “hard decisions.” Generations of people live day to day, going about their business, a new version of normal comes into being, the survivors adjust. An autistic girl becomes a woman in a future of uncertainty after another war—her 26th birthday happens to fall on The Deciding Day. Scarcity causing the inhumane selection of undesirables to be executed to become resources for the remaining population on The Deciding Day, painfully echoing the genocide of Nazi Germany. (Keep in mind, this book was published in 1970. WWII was only 25 years past and still fresh for those who lived it, the Berlin Wall was firmly in place. The Cold War was just as cold as ever. The Vietnam War was ongoing, the protest marches against that war were in full swing, and the Kent State student deaths too fresh.)

The people of Waipori City made gardens, and grew wheat in their backyards. The myth of the Reconstructed Man, Sandy, a soldier damaged by the last war, with new gold skin, and new eyes from a dead person (Admittedly he is not handsome for he was burned with the bomb that writes its name on you with graphite and with the other bomb that leaves a glare in the sky and blinds you…page 243.) People go to the one man who has the power to choose to plead for the life of their handicapped child, or an elderly parent, or an infirm spouse. Some people disappear, melting away to live in the remote areas in the mountains, hoping to avoid the end that is planned for them by a computer in a university office. A manuscript created for the sake of posterity is all that’s left to remind us of how it once was in Waipori City before the Decision Day, before the Human Delineation Act. The one man who did not sleep the sleep of forgetfulness during the Sleep Days, will not forget who wrote it, and why.

…how even in spite of the Classification and the Sleep Days the animal in man could not be subdued… (from page 342)

Scary isn’t it?

Another Janet Frame book that I’ve dog-eared and loved. Here are two other books by JF that I adore. Each book is a treasure trove of beauty…

The Carpathians

The Edge of the Alphabet a Novel by Janet Frame

Owls Do Cry

Towards Another Summer


Drinking from the Fishbowl, Chapter 1

I’m posting the first chapter…because, why not?


…and then he asked, “Why do you want to be a poet, Georgia Sullivan?” After he said it, everything changed, something inside of me flashed—light to dark—as if a light switch had been flicked off, but his office is flooded with early spring sunshine that had just broke through the clouds—we had just been marveling over the sight because it’s been such a long gray winter; the beveled glass in the windows spilled rainbows on the floor at our feet. His question caught me off guard, my mind that is normally full of words suddenly went silent. Nothing. There’s nothing. I didn’t know what to say. I closed my eyes, trying to relax. Guh, I hate when this happens—someone asks me a question, and the answer skitters off, ducking around a dark corner to hide. Come out, come out, wherever you are! I opened my eyes when I heard the creak of his chair. The sun has gone behind the clouds again—that’s the way of it, the transition from Winter to Spring, the sun plays hide ‘n seek. Come out, come out, wherever you are!

Without looking at me, Mortensen Boyd leaned forward, shifting his manner from the old family friend that I know so well to take on a professorial posture behind the desk; he frowned slightly, his hands gingerly holding his pipe, waiting for my answer. I’ve known Boyd since I was a child, so our conversation in his office at the university has been a casual banter consisting of inquiries and replies about my parents, siblings, and my home life—the farm—he loves our farm. His familiar, easygoing manner has allowed me to be myself during our interview, and my homegrown brogue accented my words a wee bit more than usual because of the poet’s strong Dublin burr. Mama always said he looks every bit of an Irish poet; a tall, gangly fellow, his pale brow garnished with a tousled forelock of dark chestnut hair, and a distinguished profile that is reminiscent of Yeats. We have teased him that he should wear a pince-nez to go along with his natty tweed jackets and distinctive slouching fedora—I laughed inside my head as the vision presented himself. He cleared his throat, and I twitched back to reality because the man sat waiting for my reply, his eyebrow twitched, his mouth became firm, and he gave me a prodding look.

“I just do—it’s a part of being alive, like breathing,” I blurted out with a light-hearted giggle, feeling a wee bit self-conscious. “It’s been my dream to write poetry—it’s what I love…” my words trailed off, I shrugged and sighed.

He said nothing, but his demeanor became contemplative as he relit his sweetly smoldering pipe with a match. I gaped at him, flustered—is he messing with me? I wondered, as an inexplicable apprehensive feeling turned my stomach into a butterfly colony. His question is straightforward, but my answer is too simple. Writing poetry and needing to breathe feel like a perfectly natural comparison to make because I would feel smothered without the daily written release—but now that I have given this clichéd answer, I feel silly—insincere—how can he possibly take me seriously after saying something so superficial? There is more to the why than that. Although his steady gray eyes that peered at me through tortoise-shell glasses did not betray what he thought of my answer, it occurred to me that he has heard my heartfelt explanation before—more than before, too many times before. I looked away from his expectant gaze and stared at the small hardbound portfolio full of words that I held in my lap; my fingers nervously tugged on the black satin ribbon that kept it secure. What I said made me no different from the rest; hundreds of fresh-faced poets have sat in this seat, each one declaring that forging words into poems is their life’s breath. How can he choose—how can he say ‘no’ to their dreams? Taking a deep breath, I raised my gaze to look at Boyd—he is a poet whose work I have admired for many years, and now I feared that he would think I’m foolish for saying something so trite. He’s waiting for a better answer because he expects more from me—especially me.

“It’s hard to explain why I do it because I’ve always done it—you probably know what I mean,” I said, hoping to smooth over my naïve awkwardness, but I internally cringed—nothing is coming out right. His meditative puffing on his pipe continued, but he still said nothing, patiently waiting to hear more. Of course, this should be simple—but it isn’t simple. It shocked me that I haven’t given the “why” much thought—I’ve only focused on the “this is what I want to do,” and “this is what I’ve done.” Now his question has created a big hole in the middle of the well-trodden path that I have made for years. Of course, you know why, silly-boo!

“The act of writing is beautiful, I even love the sound of it—I sometimes lay my head on the desk to listen to the scratch of the pencil on paper.” I began again after an unsteady gulp for a deep breath and with my mind racing to formulate what I needed to tell him. “Growing up on a self-sufficient farm has taught me an appreciation for the simple ideals of life—being home-schooled allowed me to explore knowledge with a free rein, yet with a firm hand of discipline. My introduction to poetry came in the disguise of lessons in penmanship. I remember how Mama had me practice printing my letters by copying from my favorite book about the Brownies by Palmer Cox, so it wasn’t like a lesson at all—I would draw the little Brownies tumbling with the words on the page.”

“Augie was always a clever lady—she knew that she couldn’t plop down Shakespeare in front of a five-year-old and expect her to find joy in copying a sonnet,” Boyd laughed.

“The transition from copying, to writing my own poetry was a natural progression. My life changed on the day I decided to collect words into rhyming themes of my own. I was twelve when ‘it happened,’ it was like falling in love—it made my heart race, I’d be nigh dizzy from it. My vision became sharper because it changed how I saw the world, the aesthetics of the sublime—the intense sensation of the ‘beautiful terror’ overwhelmed me—it’s what I feel while immersed in thought or writing—I feel alive—being aware of what it means to be alive. When I surrendered to the waking dream, my soul seemed to expand beyond the shelter of the earthbound body—I thought I might burst…” I became excited as I recalled those early sensations. Although my initial efforts were far from perfect; I shared them with a coy bravery and accepted any comments and suggestions to improve upon them. I learned right away that criticism is not personal. Boyd was one of my first critics and he spent time guiding me in the process of fine-tuning my words. One summer night, my great-grandfather, August Devin, listened with rapt interest during the recitation of my juvenile practices; then after a quiet contemplation, he said without being patronizing: “This is lovely—she must be reading Tennyson.” I noted Mama’s lopsided smirk as she nodded—I have been reading Tennyson. It felt weird being found out so easily. Not that there’s anything wrong with the emulation of another poet, but having it delicately exposed encouraged me to find my own voice.

Throughout my education, I faithfully studied all poetry; I adored the epic poetry of Briton chivalry and the lush mythology of the Ancient Greeks. The Romantics inspired my love of nature and my interest in the aesthetics of the sublime. More recently, I have explored the contemporary free verse angst of the latest literary rising star, Sinēad Gibbons, her work filled in the blanks when I became more self-aware and began to look within, trying to find my footing in the world.

Faithful to my aspiration to master the craft of poetry, I documented my thoughts and observations every day in journals. Years of inspired annotations have accumulated inside dozens of dime-store salt n’ pepper notebooks. A blank page is more precious than gold as I horded paper like a miser with an impulsive greed. When I change my clothes before supper, I have retrieved several crumpled pieces of paper from the pockets, carefully laying them out on my desk to contemplate later. On occasion, to my dismay, the passion to write often caused my penmanship to stray toward illegibility, so when it came time to decipher my musings later, I have cursed my sloppiness, forcing myself to grapple with recalling the event that caused me to stop to write it down. Soon enough, my irritated cussing turned into joyful mutterings as the messy scrawl started to make sense, and I went on to compose a poem from the initial inspiration. Each note conveyed the weather through the shapes of clouds, the color of the sky at dawn and at dusk, the density of atmosphere, and the scents on the breeze. I have taken note of the shifting seasons by remarking on the arrival of the first male robin tut-tutting from the budding treetops. I have deciphered the difference between his robust territorial heraldry, and the joyful proclamation that rain is coming, the urgent warning of a stalking cat, and the operatic evensong that lulls the setting sun to the horizon. Then I report the day when the familiar laughter-filled song ceased with his migratory departure.

Even after transcribing everything from these scraps, I keep them tucked inside the notebook with the intention to preserve the moment of creation; this additional compilation puts an inordinate strain on the binding, each notebook is overflowing with the daily citations of time and place. Whenever the words I needed didn’t come to mind, I have sketched the image in the ruled journal margins, sometimes making a watercolor wash of an unusual nuance I saw in the morning sky above the verdant curve of the ridge behind our house. In a sense, I have preserved the world that I love; each fragment became a hopeful fount for future inspiration. As my writing matured, I diligently transcribed the final drafts of finished work onto onionskin paper rolled into an ancient Underwood and bound them into homemade folios. The delicate crinkle of these accomplishments thrilled me as the volumes became fat with my prolific efforts.

Along with my naturalist work, epic poems grew from my interest in mythology; some are faithful reiterations of fabled dramas, while others are playful allegories in which the immortals and heroes partake in fantasies of my creation. At the age of sixteen, my ambitious poem Persephone won a poetry prize at the literary magazine Taliesin. As part of the prize, Taliesin published a slim, limited edition volume entitled Mythopoeic featuring twenty of my poems; 1500 copies out of the 2000 printed sold so far. When the editor, Peter Michael Hurst, realized that I was so young, he expressed his surprise in his kind letter of congratulations. I thought the editor’s praise in the follow-up feature article made too much fuss; humbleness and pride collided in a sickening brew of emotional turmoil that caused my moods to swing into extremes, which then made my pen stumble because I feared that I would never meet his predicted expectations. Time soon took the edge off this dread once the regular appearance of rejection letters in the mailbox forced me to focus on my discipline and restored the flow from my pen.

My obsession to write is so seductive that it is hard for me to concentrate on my daily chores. I stay awake too late to rise early, and often greeted my family in the morning with a sheepish shrug when they questioned me about how well I slept. I have always felt guilty that my literary ambition was a wish based on vanity and made the conscious effort to balance my dreams with reality. When Mama and Da expressed their concern for my well-being, it was a relief to know that they did not try to discourage me. Once they articulated their consensus that I needed to gain experiences beyond the borders of home, we began the search for the place where the study of poetry will be my concentration, which has brought me to Mortensen Boyd’s question of why I want to be a poet. I do know why.

“We never had a television in our house, so my entertainment was self-made—self-initiated—I am unlike other students who have been inundated by materialistic advertising in the media from the day of their first awareness. Whenever I meet my contemporaries, I come away thinking that we’re becoming a lazy species—if you take away the instant gratification of electronic gadgets, people might actually notice the world around them and care about it. I don’t think the majority of them appreciate anything beyond their small sphere of influence—they are so oblivious of the astonishing beauty that exists around them. Some people call it ‘progress,’ I believe it is a regression—if everyone in our society becomes like everybody else, then there will be no more originality, no more art, no more poetry, no more music—there will not be enough people to carry the torch of our culture. It scares me sometimes—how our country is becoming over-populated and over-developed to compensate. It’s becoming common to see small family farms being bought by the highest bidder with a bulldozer; they raze the land to build sprawling shopping malls or invasive subdivisions full of houses that look alike. I write my poems because I want to document the beauty of our world—to preserve a memory—it’s sad when I think about the possibility that all of this could be gone someday if people don’t take the stewardship of the planet seriously—” I paused, stunned by my impulsive rant. All of this is what I write about in my journal, never spoken aloud, but alluded to by metaphors in my poetry. Boyd’s pipe had gone out again, he paid it no mind; a spark in his eyes indicated his appreciation for my enthusiasm. This is what he was looking for from me. “Can you imagine our farm gone? That beautiful land devastated and pockmarked with houses on treeless lots of golf-course green lawns?”

“That would be a sad day if it ever happened—and your old farmhouse in the midst of it all, still standing—the last of its kind—or worse yet, torn down,” he exclaimed with unaffected delight. “Painful as it is—this is where we go when we are working things out, as you called it, ‘the beautiful terror,’ I like that.”

“Taking it that one step more,” I added, feeling a chill after his mention of our beautiful old farmhouse being torn down. “Going to where it hurts.”

“Yes, right in the heart,” he sighed. “When the committee members and I reviewed the poems in your portfolio, we admired them for their clarity of vision and profound emotion—your poems are timeless because of their roots in tradition, yet timely with contemporary verve that distills your ideals with precision. You grew up in an extraordinary atmosphere—not everyone has a home-life that nurtures talent—every budding creative artist would give anything to have your focus and the support that you receive at home, you are lucky,” he paused, looked at me for a moment, and then smiled.

“As you know, I was in school with your parents at Oxford—and believe me, I thought they were crazy passing up lucrative academic positions to come to America to live on the farm—but I admired them for trying. They are incredibly disciplined. I have been impressed with how they never let their daily labors stop them from writing articles and books, and opening their home to scholars for the retreats—they are wonderful. I cannot speak of them and not include your great-grandfather, August Devin—a brilliant man—I still cannot believe he has gone.”

Biting my lower lip, I struggled with the noose of emotion tightening around my throat; I knew that my literary pedigree could not be avoided because of Boyd’s longtime connection with our family. August Devin was an indelible personality in the academic world. He was a knowledgeable scholar with an encyclopedic memory of mythology, a lively lecturer of aesthetics, a brilliant poet, a dedicated translator fluent in many languages, and a beloved teacher of literature who will be sorely missed. There was a venerable, old world sensibility set by the way he dressed in classic tweed with the accent glimmer of a gold watch chain loosely drawn across a colorful silk vest. He always walked with an Irish blackthorn cane that was nothing more than a knotty stick with a twisted burl handle that appeared specially made to fit his hand. He didn’t seem to need it because of lameness, but it was part of him nevertheless, like a spare limb, both ends of it scarred by hand and earth. His research of ancient literature and myths led him all over Europe, the America’s, to the Holy Land, Africa, and deep into the Far East where he once lived amongst Taoist monks in a mountain monastery for almost a year.

His wife, Kathleen, passed away when Mama was a little girl, but a few years later, he fell in love with Gillian Findanus, a beautiful Jamaican woman that he had met at a poetry reading he held in his Cheyne Walk drawing room. After a formal courtship, the widow and widower agreed that it was not necessary for them to marry, he said: “Marriage is for the young who are raising families, we’ve done that already—we see ourselves as life companions, we don’t need a piece of paper to bind us.” For over thirty years, Aunt Gilly traveled with him, editing his manuscripts in progress, collaborating on books and articles, and seeing to his every need. In conjunction with her tasks, she maintained a prolific writing pace of her own, her musical, inimitable language has filled many published tomes with dream-like poetry basted by sun-warmed ocean breezes, white sand, and turquoise lagoons of the Caribbean.

Summer always brought them to us, by August, our farm gained a special quality because of the two elders strolling arm in arm through the landscape. They made an exotic pair with Victorian manners; the rich accents of their soft conversations were akin to the songs of rare migrating birds that I may chance upon in the woods during my daily rambling for inspiration.

Thankfully, August Devin didn’t linger from a long illness; he died three days after his ninety-first birthday from an aortic aneurysm. We all knew it was there, he had explained how his doctor discovered the small time-bomb during an annual physical; initially, he recommended surgery to rectify the problem, but great-grandfather balked.

“I asked him, ‘What will be my quality of life after surgery?’” The doctor explained the risks, the possibility of complications because of his age and the long recovery. “If we leave it alone, when will this thing burst?” My great-grandfather asked him this pointed question, and the doctor solemnly told him it could happen at any time, tonight, tomorrow, next week, next year, these things are hard to predict, but he could live with it if he takes good care of himself by lowering his blood pressure, and to quit smoking. August Devin then told us, “I decided to leave it alone, I feel fine—I’d rather die tonight walking around feeling as I do now than lying in a hospital bed dying from pneumonia or a stroke while recovering from surgery.”

When it burst almost two years after the diagnosis, Aunt Gilly told us: “He said, ‘I feel tired, I think I’ll go take a nap,’—he peacefully slipped away in his sleep.”

“…Gilly described his death as serene, no struggle at all,” I told him, feeling distracted.

“The way all of us hope for when we come to the end,” he said soberly. “Do you expect Gilly to come in this summer?” he asked, gently prompting me out of my drifting thoughts.

“She will come—she wouldn’t miss it for anything,” I said, smiling. “Life goes on—.”

“Yes, it does do that—whether we like it or not,” he said, making an amiable chuckle. “Why don’t you carry on the family tradition and go study at Oxford?”

“I want to study with Sinēad Gibbons.” I blurted out with a little too much force; his eyebrows arched with surprise well above the top of his glasses.

“Ms. Gibbons only comes once a year in the summer for her seminar; it’s an exclusive group—she’s rather particular about who she lets into the class. I’m afraid that it’s a rare occasion that she takes on undergraduates—she’s even turned down my best seniors in the undergraduate program.”

“I know—that’s why I wrote to her—I received this letter yesterday—she has given me permission to enter the class next year—she included a sealed letter of recommendation for you.” As I passed the documents to him, I cringed a little when I thought about letting him see the letter she wrote in reply to my plea, in it, she said: “Boyd is a good egg most of the time—he’d be a fool to overlook you.”

“This letter has come from far away—Key West—she always finds such lovely places to spend the winter—she can’t abide the cold and snow,” he hummed thoughtfully while examining the letter from my idol. “It’s funny, you know—Asa, Augie, and I were joking not too long ago about our ‘getting old.’ It seems to us that you were just a wee baby, swaddled in a pink blanket, then a tomboy in pigtails, and now here you are—time flies,” he said as he opened the envelope containing the letter of recommendation. While he read the letter, he smiled with a sense of satisfaction as he set it aside. “You do realize what you’re getting into, don’t you? There’s no guarantee that after all of this effort you may never realize your dream?”

“Dreams and realities—you can’t have one without the other—it’s like a dog chasing its tail, I guess,” I said with a laugh. Boyd chuckled, leaning back in his chair, he watched me with amusement. “I am living the dream just being here, sitting in this chair, talking to you. If I never publish a poem again, I don’t think I’ll ever stop—I will always write poetry for the joy of it—I do believe that it’s possible to live a full life and still enjoy creative endeavors—being famous or making lots of money is not my concern. I’ve lived on a self-sufficient farm all of my life, I’m certain that I’ll keep my sensible feet firmly planted on the earth no matter where my head may wander on any given day. I could do anything and still be a poet, I could be an editor, I could be a professor—I could be a waitress at a diner on Route 20—or I could sell Christmas trees from out of a barn—it doesn’t matter. I don’t need someone to tap me on the head with a magic wand and tell me ‘Georgia Sullivan, you are a poet!’ I’ll always be a poet.”

“Well—as always, you impress me with your wit and it seems you have made an impression on some of the most important people in the literary world—Sinēad Gibbons is a nice feather to receive in your cap. Peter Michael Hurst at Taliesin cannot say enough good things about you—and I—well, Ms. Gibbons is right, I would be a fool to overlook you. After the conversation that we’ve enjoyed today, I must say that I am glad to have you join our freshman class this coming fall semester, and I’d like to offer you a full scholarship.”

When Boyd shook my hand, a gust of relief blew away the stormy doubts that had clustered inside my brain about this day. Although I do fully believe in myself with pen in hand, it is always difficult when reality confronts the dream, causing uncertainty to displace confidence. Sometimes talent and dedication to write poetry isn’t enough to gain recognition—I see this acceptance as one step toward making my dream a reality. When I tried to speak, a surge of happiness overwhelmed me with an unexpected force so that I couldn’t say “thank you,” but his smile expressed that he understood my speechlessness—no words were necessary.

After leaving Boyd’s office, I strolled back to where I parked Da’s Morrie, taking the time to examine the landscape of the campus. Today it is drenched in the warm gray afternoon light of a thawing day in March, the damp air clinging to everything in gleaming beads; disintegrating snow banks stained the sidewalk with shimmering rivulets. The urban geometry of the academic architecture, graceful historic buildings mixed with rigid modern brick and concrete structures, is very unlike the casual blend of the agricultural patchwork and organic forms that I love about home. I immediately envisioned how my life would be—the dorm room with a roommate, classes, lively discussions about writing, poetry, homework, studying, and driving home for the weekends to reconnect with the things that I love most of all—the things that inspire me to write poetry. The anticipations that fill me with joy are mixed with a peculiar dose of fear; fear of the unknown and fear of failure whispered their insidious secrets inside my head.

What is there to be afraid of?

Nothing—nothing at all, but I’d be a fool not to be.

The Book of Everything and the Kitchen Sink: Wood and Stone, a Romance, by John Cowper Powys

Everything and the kitchen sink. I kid you not, shit happens by the bucket loads, and I loved it, pull up a comfy chair, and read.

Heaven help us! It is easy enough to criticize the lath and plaster which, in so many books, takes the place of flesh and blood…” (from the Preface)

I finished reading this a week ago and have been letting the last of it simmer before I could write about it. I always come away from one of Powys’ books feeling discombobulated, whelmed/ overwhelmed, tired, and maybe a wee bit cranky, which requires my revisiting multiple dog-eared pages, and searching for bits of this and that—the things haunting me, making my brain itch. I have a 1915 copyright G. Arnold Shaw, NY, blue cloth bound cover. I do love old books (collect them when I find them) and this one was a Christmas present from my Fred last year. It is in fine condition overall, a bit worn around the edges, but still a beauty, and readable. One of the previous owners wrote their name in pencil on the inside, it’s very faint [Thomas Kell or possibly Kelly.]

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Do you have any idea how special it is to read a book that is over 100 years old? I’m tickled pink.

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I found it especially sweet that it is dedicated to Thomas Hardy. (Why am I not surprised that JCP admired him?) “One could hardly have the audacity to plant one’s poor standard in the heart of Wessex without obeisance being paid to the literary over-lord of that suggestive region. …The mention of his admirable name at the beginning of this book is no more than a humble salutation addressed to the monarch of that particular country, by a wayward nomad, lighting a bivouac-fire, for a brief moment, in the heart of a land that is not his.”  Indeed!

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The Preface is worth the read—it’s quiet touching to read after reading the novel— I love this quote: “Art must prove itself to evoke the very tang and salt and bitter-sweetness of the actual pell-mell of life—its unfolding spaces, its shell-strewn depths…. Double indeed! The pell-mell of life—you haven’t lived if you haven’t had pell-mell (I’ve experienced my share.)

At first, I was a bit concerned knowing this is JCP’s first novel, but I’m always willing to give a book a chance to explain itself on its own terms, and trust the author to guide me on the journey he created. Being familiar with his later work, Wolf Solent, Weymouth Sands, Ducdame, and Porius initiated my natural curiosity to see how he started. “In the beginning there was Wood and Stone…”

Once I became immersed like I normally do with a JCP book—I have to admire how he manages the multiple directions of threads and stray bread crumbs scattered about, and resolving all of the plot knots, and keeping up with the Wotnots and Lickwits. (Yes, it is raw, it needed editing to fine tune it, but I’m partial to the rambling and raw, it doesn’t bother me.) What I do see about this book is he maintains a steady emotional bond—that is his focus, because life is never orderly, people perfectly compartmentalized, and in this small community, a lot happens. (Like watching Twin Peaks, you miss a few minutes or an entire episode, you’re screwed, you might as well wait for the reruns to catch what the Log Lady said—or in the case of Wood and Stone, what Witch Bessie said.) So yes, I dozed off a few times, dropped the book, and lost my place. I had to reread a fair amount, which is why it took me forever to read it. (Musn’t read a complex novel after taking an Advil PM!) What I also discovered in between the pages is a clear affection through it all, affection for the land, and faithfulness to the spirit, affection for the people, even the despicable—there’s a light-heartedness that is very human, which I always find in his novels. He loves to write! He loves painting pictures with words! The density of the writing—yes, commas and semi-colons aplenty, (which is so frowned upon these days,) but it’s the music of the language that is delightful. (I understand completely, and often, catch myself rambling on like I am now…)

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The book also came with a piece of stationary from the Quinnipiac College Alumni Fund drive tucked in near the end (not sure what page because it fell out when I was reading along) on it are handwritten notes in brown ink (fountain pen type) listing several names of the characters (apparently, someone needed to keep track!)

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Speaking of keeping track of characters, I can always rely on JCP to tell a tale with a cast of characters, complete with multi-faceted plots concerning each individual, and the various overlapping of this one and that one, and a tangled web woven throughout of inter-related events. The names are always a treasure, unique, and at times revealing of the character in some way. There are the two stone cutters, Luke and James Anderson; the pair of Pariahs Mr. Maurice Quincunx and Miss Lacrima Traffio; the wise mystic fringe person, Witch Bessie (I simply adore her!) The wealthy bad dude, Mr. Romer, and his spoiled daughter Gladys; the tortured vicar Clavering; the admirable theologian Mr. Taxater, and the Christian socialist Mr. Wone (a star combination, that!); the wealthy American artist, Dangelis; Vennie Seldom, the delicate virgin aspiring nun. It wouldn’t be a JCP novel without the one or two odd people who ain’t quite right, Nance Purvis is one, but it’s James Anderson who started off normal enough until he tilted into the genetic off-kilter inherited from his mother the moment his mental wind blew a certain way.) I left out so many others, but that’s okay…

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JCP’s descriptions of the natural world, the sublime atmosphere, botanical, animal; earthy life and decay is always enchanting—and there is always the constant awareness of past histories and pedigrees, landmarks (Leo’s Hill) and industries (the stone quarry) that are discussed at length. This is the sort of stuff that sets a reader’s feet on the main drag of Nevilton, creating a sense of direction.

The conflicts between (or acknowledgement of) the haves and have-nots, (the “well-constituted” and the “ill-constituted,” Nietzsche is mentioned in the Preface) which leads into the politics of the time—it just seemed uncanny considering the current climate we’re in—guh, how somethings never change! The references are endlessly on the mark.

The moral fiber of human nature, blasphemy and religion, Christianity (Catholicism vs Protestant), and yes, there’s always a Pagan vein running through those who allow themselves to remain open to all possibilities.

On page 440, the Wood and Stone schism as told by the theologian, Mr Taxater (he is often referred to as “the Papal apologist”) to James Anderson, the stone-carver, and Vennie Seldom:  “Come, come, my friend,” said Mr. Taxater… “You mustn’t talk like that! You people get a wrong perspective in things. Remember, this is no longer the Stone Age. The power of stone was broken once for all, when certain women of Palestine found that stone, which we’ve all heard of, lifted out of its place! Since then it is to wood—the wood out of which His cross was made—not to stone, that we must look.”

 Just dipping back into the book to find that piece caused me to read ten pages or so—it’s a fascinating read, even in small random bites, which is part of the magic of a JCP novel—the revisiting after reading is always a pleasure. (I could reread it again.) And it’s the revisiting that allows me to feel less discombobulated. It is a pleasure to read for the story, and a pleasure to read deeply for the soul.

Not to disparage JCP’s work by saying this, but this is a bit like a soap opera…humor me on this, there is a good deal of melodrama going on, hanky-panky is suggested, and nothing seems quite settled, even when it is, and of course, there’s small town gossip. With that said—it wouldn’t be a book by JCP without the struggles of the inner landscape of the characters, delving into the psychological clockworks of each individual, their lusts, their worries, their rage, and their grief. Although most of the focus is on the variety of men and their schemes, thoughts, and passions, the portrayal of women is always a puzzle of fascination—how they are perceived by the men who revere them or despise them—they are celebrated for their beauty, lusted after, they cause endless misery, and are often looked to for their wisdom. The women themselves, their relations with one another is another puzzle; mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters, cousins, companions, and rivals. One young woman, Gladys Romer, is a real piece of work, she’s an incorrigible flirt with anything in pants—specifically, the young stone carver, Luke Anderson (younger brother to James), the American artist, Mr. Dangelis, and she is the unrelenting tormentor of the vicar, Mr. Clavering. This girl is nothing but trouble (I knew my share of her type in school, so I had little sympathy for her.) The fragile ones, Vennie Seldom (aspiring nun), Ninsey Lintot (one of the ailing heart), then the assorted servant women, mothers (Mrs. Romer, Mrs. Seldom, and references to the departed, insane, Mrs. Anderson) and a handful of mischievous village maidens who vie for the attentions of Luke Anderson.

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And then there are the Pariahs, these two are the center pieces of our story. Mr. Maurice Quincunx, and Miss Lacrima Traffio, Quincunx, the odd bachelor of Dead Man’s Cottage, is in love with Lacrima, and she with him, but because of their social status as Pariah’s they…here, this explains it best, from page 84: There are Pariahs in every village. It might be said that there are Pariahs in every family. The Pariah is one who is born with an innate inability to deal vigorously and effectively with his fellow animals. One sees these unfortunates every day—on the street, in the office, at the domestic hearth. One knows them by the queer look in their eyes; the look of animals who have been crushed rather than tamed…It is not only that they are weaker than the rest and less effectual. They are different. It is in their difference that the tragedy of their fate lies…

 I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Lacrima is chronically tormented by her cousin, Gladys, who takes pleasure in teasing the poor girl to the point of terror. One of the best parts occurs in Chapter 12, Auber Lake. This is probably one of the most intense displays of one of Gladys’ schemes to torture Lacrima, but it turns against her at the last moment that is a stunning and humorous blow to her ego. It was fantastic! JCP’s sense of humor is always a treat.

And so—JCP, magical story-telling, even back in 1915, the first of many fine tales. I have so many more to read! My collection continues to grow.

As I was writing this, I searched the web for other insights into this book—I occasionally find it hard to put into words what it is I am feeling, and seeing what others have to say helps—so here are a few bread crumbs to follow:

 A Story of Interior Passion: Wood and Stone by John Cowper Powys

Interesting article about the women in JCP’s books

Beyond Yes and No: The Novels of John Cowper Powys


The Book of Marks

(Good grief lady, where have you been?) Busy living life, I guess. Some of my time has been spent basking in the sunshine of the warmest October in memory, making friends with feral kitties, Harper Lee and Smarty Marty, harvesting the bounty from my garden (and the weeds that go along with that), playing with my wee donkey and goat, making mead with my Fred, clearing out my parent’s house to sell it (an emotional mountain if ever there was one, thankfully, we’re on the downhill side of that.)  And of course, picking away on the final editing of my novel Drinking from the Fishbowl which has been a long haul of years in the making…the extra attention has been very worth it. (Of course there are the visitations of doubts that come along with that effort, it’s a see-saw of “This sucks” to “Wait, did I really write that?”) I’ve written a few poems, but they’re too raw to share…tho’ maybe I’ll just post a long rambling thing with all of them in it, and what the heck, it might make sense! Or not.

November has arrived with wind and rain…and still a little bit warmer than normal. I’m sure someone will flip the Winter Switch and the rain will become snow, and I will continue to expect the unexpected…

I do want to share another art project that I’ve had in the works since summer…it was a nice season of splashing around with India ink and shredding paper into pages and then creating the folio to house these fragments of varying shapes and sizes, none of them square or rectangular – they are for the most part irregular, squarish, rectangular-ish bits with no rhyme or reason other than being made on the same day, with the same ink, the same brushes with which I made the same marks…

The Book of Marks.

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The folio closed and tied.

When the folio is opened, it offers a collection of sketches with which I create arrangements, compositions, displays of marks, layers, textures, some appear geological in nature…ancient, sacred.

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The Folio Opened

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Some things I have no words for…so if I can’t write it, I create images…I know they might not look like anything to write home about, but they do mean a lot to me. This and others like it are part of a larger project that I’m developing that will involve photography, limited edition portfolios for each book (The Book of Fragments, The Book of Contemplations, and The Book of Maps to the Inner World.) There will be a written element, which will involve a book for each folio, and culminating with an exhibition. This will take years to fulfill. And like the novels I write, I’m very patient, and I will see it through.

These new works make me extremely happy…you have no idea. There are more to come.