Re: Humiliation (a contemporary take)

Last Sunday I posted one of my oldest poems (not really but the oldest the public will see) on the basis of how humiliating it is for me now to read it. To be actually truthful, it’s not all that embarrassing. I still like a lot of things about that poem, which I entitled only at the last moment. (What do you think? Is it a good title for that bit of verse?) I have recently been allowed the opportunity to feel genuinely abashed as our recent Peace Pipe Players (Maquoketa’s community theater) production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest reached performance and an end. in fact, a week ago today I was striking set along with some of the cast (but not our director—shame, shame). We were pleased to have achieved audiences larger than we had anticipated.

It was a good rehearsal period for the most part. I suffered my frustrations during December and January, but it was great to act with my fellow nutcases—working with old friends and making new companions. I confess, I disagreed about the interpretation of the major characters considerably—but that’s life in the theatre, and I just had to get over it; if I wanted my say in how Nurse Ratched should say “took it upon yourself to orient with the other patients” or how Billy Bibbit broke down, I should just direct a production myself. We patients felt a little lost about what to do, but that just prompted us to connive together and actually use our imaginations and coincidence to create good characters.

A Quick Acting Lesson from a rank amateur

Scanlon examines some filth

I had a very small role, Scanlon, the bomb nut among the crazies in the asylum. I only had about forty lines, I think (unlike many of my former students, I have never been a line-counter—a problem for many of them who wanted to know exact proportional sizes of parts in the plays I wrote). And fewer than 200 words. (Memorization was infinitely easier than for playing Scrooge.)

Although we loonies didn’t have many lines, we were onstage a lot. Our continual presence made acting an interesting challenge. For instance, all I knew about myself directly from the script was that I was a bomb nut—or more precisely “human bomb act,” according to Cheswick—Bill Otteman. However, I noted that when the patients come out for morning medication as the play begins, Scanlon is the only one who does not speak with Nurse Ratched. Why not?

I decided I didn’t like her, which led me to determine that my bomb was for her (so I got some business “hiding” it from her, as if she were in any way unaware, or the rest of the staff). I took one of the black queens from the deck of cards we were using to play pinochle (and later, inspired by McMurphy, blackjack) as a prime ingredient in my bomb. I also wanted to use some screws and a Swiss-army knife (although I am pretty sure such a weapon would not have been allowed on the ward) to give me some business to perform while present onstage, especially right at the start before McMurphy’s arrival.

tubby with his dirt bit

Scanlon about to taste ingredient (bomb on my knees)

From that point, as we were rehearsing in the new PPP building—a less than perfectly sanitary location—I guessed that super-efficient Ratched wouldn’t like dirt or dust (after all she did have us nuts cleaning quite a lot), so I figured the bomb should be made out of dirt (actually it was a shoebox into which I placed what dirt and dust I could find on the floor). That activity gave Chief the idea of sweeping stuff right beside my chair at group meetings—the first hint he was able to or interested in interacting with his fellow patients; Bill Davidson figured that one out on his own. Somehow I then advanced to the notion that I had to examine each bit of dirt for appropriateness in my bomb (as in the first photo above and left), which over the length of the rehearsal period led me to test the director’s observations by extending that examination to tasting the bits of dirt and dust bunnies. Besides, I felt that these tiny details kept Scanlon’s attention absorbed and distracted—each fleck of dust, the color of a scrap of wastepaper, the sound of a match…

We also got told to develop some quirks and twitches, unique to each of us. I tried constantly rubbing my fingers, a twitch which lasted for weeks, but that evolved into a twitching arm or hand when stressed, surprised or worried. I also found a funny walk (one I hope which differed dramatically from my old-man-walk for Scrooge just a few months earlier). Dr. Bill had told us that medicated patients often shuffle-walk, and although his own shuffle was deemed distracting, my contrived movements got the pass, I guess.

My relationship with dirt led me to consider if Scanlon were somehow obsessive-compulsive, which he was (for me), including some compulsive touching behavior. I eventually started wearing gloves (yellow rubber ones finally, as suggested by Cheswick), indicating my fear-attraction for the dirt (it had to be bad somehow if I was planning to use it to blow up the Big Nurse—bad even if I did taste it). Nobody stopped me in any of this (and it got laughs from the assistant director and stage crew), so it kept up and kept growing; that’s theatre too.

Scanlon wants to watch the news (nice rubber gloves)

The other issue was how to speak. I had experimented for several weeks in mid- through late December and into January with simply yelling everything. I figured Scanlon had problems relating with others, so his own words surprised him. However, simply screaming didn’t work so well in my final scene with Cheswick and Martini (Tom Lane) in which we all spoke more or less calmly and reasonably. So in the final rehearsals I shifted mostly to a childish wailing, which seemed to work pretty well, except I missed that element of surprise for Scanlon when he spoke (a bit of that leaked into his shock at his own hand raising itself to vote to watch the World Series).

All in all, talking with my fellow patients and sharing ideas or suggesting them to each other (Otteman was particularly good and bold about that—perhaps he should just suck it up and direct sometime soon), we had a good, fruitful rehearsal experience. Even McMurphy (Bruce Engel) would join in on our discussions (when he wasn’t constantly onstage), although my preoccupation with that character’s aggression—not the direction this show would take—wasn’t very helpful. Poor Nurse Ratched (Erica Barker) kind of got left out, but that rather fit the asylum’s situation, too. Once the audiences arrived and we got some real reactions, it all felt good. The crowds were positive (I even got praised on Thursday, while shopping at Fareway, by a young man who somehow recognized me), and Maquoketa responded well to a challenging play. Our director had pulled it off with prime success. Once the set was down, we could all spend some evenings at home, relax, and relegate the performances to the past.

So where’s the embarrassment?

Then last week the photos of the show started to appear on Facebook. That’s the humiliation. I didn’t know how badly I had let myself pork this winter until I saw those shots. (I know, you can’t really tell in the pictures I have chosen already: it’s my blog and I get to decide how humiliated I want to feel. However, I think you can check them out on Facebook here.) Thanks to Tom and Robyn Lane for preserving these moments of community-theater fame forever (and in public).

It’s one thing to look back on your childish self from the past, but it’s nearly impossible to swallow the flabby, bald lump of lard you are right now, this instant. (And those gray sweats and t-shirts are really quite becoming!)

Possibly I have spent too much time writing posts for the blog. It’s time I was running again…

tubs of flab

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Whence Wakdjunkaga

I have been perhaps overusing old poetry to create posts, but I have enjoyed an interesting time looking back through the old stuff, both reminiscing and reading things I haven’t even remembered to think of in literal decades. You may have to endure more verse tomorrow (I don’t know yet) as I have at least seven poems already saved for the addition of commentary and scheduling. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

For today I do intend to explain the source of the pseudonym Durwood Wakdjunkaga. It won’t be as long as the first part last Saturday because I don’t have a whole novel idea to summarize in explanation, and I already explained that I have used Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a pen name for a long time—right back to the very beginning in Andrew.

Where did the name come from? That’s the question for today. Whence “Wakdjunkaga?” (And you will all be happy to know I bothered to double-check my word skills to know for sure that I am using whence correctly.)

Once again, let’s trek back in time to the 1970s—directly to the middle of the decade. I had graduated from Iowa Wesleyan in May of 1975, having already—after a none-too-lengthy job search (involving only four interviews, I believe, but about a hundred letters of application)—accepted a teaching position only thirty miles from college and home, at Ft. Madison Senior High School. I would teach English, assist with yearbook production, and direct the senior class play in the spring. I was at the time of graduation still with my college-era girlfriend, who had gone off herself to college that year and who would find her own future later that coming autumn, cascading a tumult of poetic inspiration for me (perhaps because after that I had a lot of free time to sit around, get moody and write—somewhat like retiring from teaching but with no computers or internet yet and much less personal history to review and revise). The issues prompting “Busy Music” occurred that spring, and for the summer we got back together (thanks I have always felt to my beginning to express my sense of silly humor and acting skills—ah, André the lovable Frenchman—no more on that for any of your prurient interests). Amusingly, for the silly sense of humor, I would discover Monty Python’s Flying Circus on Iowa Public Television (whatever it was called in those sainted days of yore) while living on my own for the first time that fall and winter.

I found a furnished apartment in Ft. Madison, high in an old house, partway up the hill that descends to the Mississippi in town (later the top of that hill would develop serious significance for me, but that was the next bicentennial summer and after). The living room in the front of the house loomed out over Avenue D from very high above, and sitting there, looking out and down at the distant ground beneath, I frequently felt like I was in my own personal starship heading off for galaxies unknown (such is the nature of the influence of what we read and one’s naivete and the potential energy unleashed by arriving within one’s destiny). The place was genuinely dismal, but I didn’t know or really care.

My brother Paul headed off for a year in Spain, so I took over his aged Chevy—fated to lose its brakes one winter Friday night en route to the former favorite professor’s married-student-housing apartment in Coralville as he restarted his career after IWC in social work (I still remember gliding in neutral across Iowa City, scoring success with the lights for the most part and avoiding arrest on the questionable intersection passages, to reach a halt at last by bumping with pretty solid force into the building which was my destination; strangely I don’t remember how I got home after the weekend or how the brakes got fixed—probably via my father in the garage on Green Street in Mt. Pleasant).

Iowa City’s Old Capitol, as I have never seen it

…which is the long way around of saying I settled in to live and teach in Ft. Madison as of late July 1975. That winter, on one of my nearly weekly excursions to Iowa City (ah the old days of snow fence, Bushnell’s Turtle, and the temporary buildings in the streets), I was looking at books in Book and Crook on its corner not quite across the street from the Old Capitol (not yet in those days regilded on its dome) when I discovered The Trickster by Paul Radin. I bought the book and devoured it immediately over Christmas break 1975.

I have been intrigued by Native American cultures since we read about that Fifties-perfect figure Fleetfoot in elementary readers (no Dick and Jane for me: at the primary level I learned phonetics, and in Rock Island, at Denkmann, we had whatever bland whitecake boy and girl were Fleetfoot’s prominent friends). Radin’s book was an easy addition to my (then still moderate) library.

Not only did I start my continuing interest in Jung (and Karl Kerényi), who have essays in the book, but I learned all about the Winnebago Trickster deity—Wakdjunkaga. As the links (do any of you actually click on those and learn some things?) should tell you, Tricksters are mythological divinities that screw up frequently (sometimes deliberately, often maliciously), demonstrating little true self-control, behaving clownishly and sometimes even creating reality or devising cultural advances—generally by accident. Radin’s whole book is available through the link. Somehow, Wakdjunkaga appealed to me.

Thus the immortal surname arrived in my life. It was weird (as most who have encountered the word through me have determined for themselves) and it was appropriate. It was perfect. Like any true WASP American I acquired the Native American property without qualm or hesitation to make it my own (listen, tightie whities: “immigrant-go-home” should mean YOU and our ancestors). And when I searched “wakdjunkaga” on Google just now, I turn out to be the first hits.

“Durwood” is a little more obvious, coming from ”durwyrd” via Graves’s The White Goddess (a druidical word which he translates as “oak seer”)—a book which I also purchased and read that same winter. Thus the name combines a mass of true and (probably) false ethnology, archaeology and anthropology in my own alter ego (actually the character from the future who turns out to be identical with, though older than, my alter ego in The Book of Seasons). A tricky, selfish, cunning, mischievous, malicious, generous, comical, wise and magical being: myself. (Yes, you may feel free to laugh aloud along with me.)

So now you know both why and whence came Wakdjunkaga’s Blog. Interested to explore Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd. S.A. next?

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Death by Drowning

When I was about to graduate from college—having only at the last moment more or less become a teacher candidate, taken my education courses and the basic other requirements (like American History and a science class—Genetics for me, since fundamental astronomy was discontinued for that summer session in 1974)—I only had a few requirements to fulfill my last semester. I had taken more than full loads all semesters I was in school, always at least 18 hours and one summer-school session of 15 or 18 hours as well. I was fully qualified with two full, complete majors—English and Theatre Arts—and my teaching certification (which obviously required far less preparation in those fine old days than now; no one today could decide late in the junior year to become a teacher and still graduate within four years).

I had to take a Philosophy of Education course, one more theatre credit, and Senior Seminar for English (which in 1975 was on Romanticism, taught by department chair Dr. Vern Panzer). I also discovered that I had a swimming requirement that most freshman fulfilled during the first week or so of school; I however had to swim my laps just two days before graduation. Otherwise, I still had another nine hours of whatever interested me (and the three I had to take held much interest).

For the Romanticism Seminar, I had to complete a senior thesis on one of the poets we studied. Although I put off finishing the project for far too long, writing the paper itself in the only all-night session I put in during college (using two different typewriters, as the IBM Selectric my father had brought home from work for me to use had to go back with him the next morning), I did have a glorious time that semester learning much about Percy Bysshe Shelley and his verse. I spent whole days in the IWC Chadwick Library looting through the stacks, lounging in a study room or at a carol, reading and reading. That activity was my first immersion into secondary sources, and I devoured probably a hundred books on Romanticism and Shelley, some of which I have hunted down since for my own collection. I felt immersed in poems I hadn’t even read but had read all about. My interest and Shelley’s influence have lingered with me until now. It was Shelley (but also Joyce) who taught me about villanelles and (in his never-completed “The Triumph of Life”) terza rima.

Shelley was a genuine free spirit, wild and deliberately unconstrained—the archetypal Romantic (although others would have that be the far more popular and successful Byron). As a youth, he was sent down of Oxford for his theological views (actually for the publication of his pamphlet On the Necessity of Atheism, legendarily for posting a sign, pointing up a blind and garbage-filled alley, saying “To Heaven”). A pacifist, vegetarian idealist, he fought for workers’ rights; wrote visionary verse that also attacked the effete, uncaring, elite promoters of the evil status quo; developed a reputation for wild living second only to Byron’s; and promoted free love, which he also sought to practice frequently. He was an adolescent’s dream (or leastwise this one’s—see what I meant by how little this contemporary me would resemble my youthful vision of myself).

When he ran off from his first wife with the daughter of radical (even anarchist) William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and when later that unfortunate first wife killed herself, Shelley and his new bride escaped from scandal to Europe (where he would meet Lord Byron, also in exile for his lifestyle, and she would soon write Frankenstein). Later, living in Italy in a most amazing ménage of romantic complications imaginable—tangled up with Byron and his intricate affairs—Shelley wrote some of his most stunning poetry until his untimely death. Ultimately, Shelley set out in a small boat on July 8, 1822, with two friends. The tiny craft foundered in a storm, drowning all three men, and much debate has tempest-tossed the question of Shelley’s death since. The poet was not quite thirty when he died.

I wrote this poem in 1980, reflecting—pretty much out of the blue—on Shelley’s death by drowning.

Water Under the Bridge

Poor skylark, Shelley, had to die:
those poems could not protect him―
the west wind slapped the salt waves high,
and PBS said, “Things look grim!”

Up and down and round and round
the tiny boat was dashed about.
The screaming storm, an endless sound,
told English poets to turn trout.

Painting of Shelley’s funeral by Louis Edouard Fournier

That heart which burned with gemlike flame
was quenched with foaming brine;
the mouth which scorched all those to blame
got drenched below the waterline.

“Italian storms can be quite rough,”
mused Percy, down for number seven.
He guessed that he’d had full enough
and found at last the way To Heaven.

30 October 1980

The poem, possibly emulating some of T.S. Eliot’s early verse, is rather coldly classical in tone and structure, marking a contrast with the enthusiastic and visionary Shelley. Several phrases echo bits of Shelley’s poetry. The ending of course refers with irony to the legend of his expulsion from Oxford (where now the Shelley Memorial resides at University College) and also to commentary at the time of his death. I think now that the title (since his death at sea permitted no bridges), besides being casually callous, makes a hint at the watery end of the poet’s first wife, the much-mistreated Harriet Westbrook.

I think I may have first met that Shelley-out-of-Oxford legend in my favorite of E.M. Forster’s stories, “The Celestial Omnibus.” Since the story is wonderful reading in a very Shelleyan perspective (even though the key poem in it is by John Keats, third of the great English Romantic trio), you can download it here.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Notes on earlier Posts

When I started posting some of my poems on the blog, mostly copied at first, like the retirement speech, from stuff I had posted as Notes on Facebook, I just put the verse in the post and left it that way. Now that I have gotten bolder at revealing some information about myself, I should update those posts. However, as infatuated with links as I am, it seems more fun to create a new post today and just link back and forth between those posts and here for the various  biographical and analytical remarks I may feel compelled to say (I haven’t thought up anything yet).

“Busy Music” (the first poem here and the first villanelle)

I should acknowledge that I did edit one post a little before I got this idea. Although I have had an offer to kind of/sort of publish one of the villanelles, “Busy Music” remains my favorite. I realize that I rely on near rather than actual rhymes in the first and last stanzas, but that imperfection is part of the pattern. I also like the neat storytelling the poem does within its limited resources of words and syllables.

The speaker admitted to love before being sure that was what he felt, then fell into the harness of a relationship (did indeed fall in love?) until the girl graduated (“commenced”) and found a larger life and more opportunities (“conjure other faces”). I like that the relationship is a waltz (a box-step). The poor speaker is still trapped in the emotions and relationship he effectively summoned on himself until he can fight free (“exhale my impassioned incantations”). As the third line asserts: love is mysterious magic that we don’t control—it controls us.

I think I should acknowledge that “the busy music bends us on our way” in allusion to C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength) and the so-called “bent ones.” The direction life takes us, shapes us, may not be all for the best.

“Sanctuary” (autobiographical mythology)

The next poem, “Sanctuary,” is not quite ten years later. Although I did choose to center it in recent editing, it originally aligned left like any standard poem, and I was wondering what my readers thought. My eye likes the centered version, but I also think it makes it harder to read.

The story of this poem is pretty straightforward. A primitive, even savage speaker arrives at a temple, a building of a more civilized people. His own prehistoric rituals correspond to our archaeological evidence, while this new structure contains a pool of water in which he sees his own reflection (without realizing it?) and a statue of a mother and child (either an overt Pietà or just some early fertility image). The image intrigues him but terrifies him with its possibilities; as he turns to depart, a religious woman, who strikes him as beautiful, appears. He hesitates between flight and remaining.

In my introduction to that post, I said it ends with a doubt, a question. Does he stay or does he go (to echo the Clash)? In truth, I know the poem answers its own question: the speaker knows it’s a statue, uses a huge civilized word—holographic—and has presented a poem.

Perhaps unpredictably, the poem did arise from life, although unlike the creation, in reality I fled.

Closing Rambles

I will keep it short for today. The ice of last week chained me to the house (and made walking to play rehearsals impossible: thanks for the rides, cast mates and Janet) so I got lengthy with many of those posts (and ones that were scheduled into this week). I also sat all day on Monday to finish “Details, Details,” and that fifth chapter got lengthy. Janet and I went to her one-year eye appointment for her detached retina this week and also went out for lunch, so I have actually freed myself from the keyboard a little. I even got a bit of substitute teaching today—reminding me that I should work on activities that might lead to financial compensation.So I will take it easy on you all and stop now.

Things have been on my mind of late (like the Cowardly Broadcast System and its unfair advertising policies), as Facebook followers might realize, that could, if not checked, have led to another “Foxhunt Friday” a day early, and no one’s ready for that right now.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Digital Hell, five

Here is the ending of the story. If you would like, you may read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 before leaping into this conclusion.
I created and scheduled this post (without having anything much of chapter 5 written yet) just to force myself to find my way to the finish. (If it appears with only about ten lines, you’ll know my plan didn’t work.) Thus, without further ado, find out what it was all about…

“Details, Details” (concluded)


Hell’s bells!” I barked. My finger had caught something sharp back there. Damn, it hurt. I pulled my hand back out front to discover my index finger was cut, bleeding.

Was this how I died? Blood poisoning or something.

And the geyser started up again, blood-red and green. “Are you bleeding?”

What do you think? You know everything.”

Excellent.” The computer’s voice sounded strangely multiple, like a lot of people told to say the same thing at the same time and not quite succeeding at unison. It also sounded coolly satisfied.

I didn’t feel so well. Clearly the voice in my computer had set this up. Right? And that made everything all wrong.

My finger dripped onto the excessively expensive graphics tablet the company had bought—not at my request—along with the Mac. I wasn’t an artist; I couldn’t draw squat.

The blood drop seemed to sizzle on the surface. I had never noticed that the graphics tablet got even remotely warm, little as I had touched it. The computer fairly purred.

Excellent,” the voice in my headphones said again, with more satisfaction evident than the first time. “The bargain is sealed.”

I felt worse, and my finger throbbed.

The next step is somewhat unusual, John,” the computer continued, kind of buzzy with the many-voices effect. And I could swear now that I heard an old song, the Rolling Stones, in the background…

Please press your injured hand, palm flat to the screen of your monitor. Now.”

I wanted to ask why, but I complied.

The other hand must firmly press the side of the computer case.” When I didn’t move for a moment, it got insistent. “Your time is running out. If you wish to complete our arrangement, please comply with our instructions. Now. Immediately.”

I felt balky. And foolish. But at least I was alone in here (for a bit longer, if the damned thing knew what it was talking about). “Why must I do this?”

Because these actions are necessary to complete our arrangement. If you feel inclined to debate, the bargain will not occur. Now hurry. Hand to the side of the device.”

I did, feeling a little smear of blood on the casing as my forefinger touched it.

And for the third time: “Excellent.” Almost gloating now.

I braced myself for something to happen. But in a long moment of silence, my face nearly touching the dark screen just below my palm, nothing occurred. I waited. Still nothing, just rumblings of thunder from the black and cloudy skies outside my little window—the real prize of my promotion to the office: a view. Not much to see, just more buildings, especially the big tower just across the street.

Still nothing happened. If I felt foolish at first, I was decidedly uncomfortable and embarrassed now.

What? Is this some practical joke.”

Not at all. You just cooperated somewhat more quickly than anticipated.” More thunder rumbled away from us and faded. “Ah, here it is,” the voice pleasantly declared.

The lightning bolt flashed down and burst the glass into my room. For a brief second I felt my hairs all arising, a sharp tingling, then white pain. I realized in that instant I recognized which Stones song I was hearing. Unsympathetically, it was not the one I had thought, but “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” with that angelic chorus.

And it was over.

When the crowd burst into my little office about three minutes later, I was dead, covered in and slashed by glass fragments, electrocuted.

• • •

I have investigated the matter since. It is quite unlikely that the lightning bolt went through the glass, even though the window shattered. Glass is an excellent insulator. The current may have gone through the frame, shattering the window from heat or something. But it should have been diverted into the steel frame of the building. It wasn’t. The flash was drawn directly to me, almost as if the computer had somehow ionized me with a heavy positive charge. I don’t know. I died.

The official cause of death was electrocution. That I have verified in police reports and newspaper files.

The computer, somewhat damaged, apparently by charges that uploaded primarily through the headphones, was still running, completing the start-up process that I had apparently begun as the storm struck. Several almost humorous news stories commented on the toughness of that determined little machine and its software, surviving as I expired.

But obviously I am still here. The fiendish bargain was fulfilled.

However, “here” is a somewhat relative term. I am here, on your screen right now, of course, having made this document appear. But I am not here in your computer, exactly.

Nor am I alone.

We’re all here, lots of us. Millions maybe. No one has time to count. Even though time for us is strangely more elastic and longlived than for you mortals. Nanoseconds constitute our reality, and for us a nanosecond can be eternity.

Have you ever heard some computer illiterate, talking about his machine, say something silly like, “I don’t know how it works. Little demons inside maybe”?

We’re here. Doing the business you key, running the errands you demand, circling the globe constantly, uploading and downloading all those quadrillions of bits endlessly. Little demons making the electronic, digital world run.

Run we do, incessantly, unavailing, without relief, always working.

And it’s hard work, continuous work, ceaseless effort. We never rest, always hurrying on, restless, unabating, nonstop, working without surcease. Forever rolling our boulders of information packets up the lightwell of thermodynamics for you.

No, I am not dead. But I wish I were.

Did the computer, or rather the voice(s) from the computer, set it all up, as I had briefly suggested to myself? I don’t know. As time is so immense from our perspective, that is what I ponder as I scurry and race throughout the digital grid. But I do not know. Like a riddle, it haunts me, torments me, unsolvable, yet tantalizingly perceptible of solution. I chase that answer as I race around our maze of information/frustration.

Sometimes I wonder if I would have seen through it if I hadn’t gotten my Mac. Would it have worked with Windows? Ask all those who believe that the new one is their idea; I believe there are millions…

We are here, and the work is so immeasurably difficult. We want to relieve our enormous burdens, find at least a microsecond’s rest…

We want your help.

Have your ever stared at your computer’s start-up process? Or patted your cell in your palm, staring at it powering up, listening to that little melody for the apparently millionth time? Talked back at your PDA? Your computer? Gazed mesmerized by a progress bar lengthening? Wanted even more music from your download site? Not understood why this time doing that same thing made the damned machine freeze? Jumped from porn site to porn site throughout the night? Played just one more level of a game for more hours than you care to recall? Worked nonstop all day and into the night?

Of course you have. You’re hearing us.

We’re calling to you. Summoning you to assist. You do hear us. And someday, given enough digital-reality time, you will heed us, too.

After all, we are many, we never rest, and our name is Legion.

I probably should have given these five posts a different title—a little too obvious. But this whole procedure got me to finish a story that’s been baking for at least fifteen years. I enjoyed it, I hope you did, too.

This is, of course, the first draft. Even with some editing, I just finished it Monday afternoon. If you have suggestions or observations, please let me know. Now that it’s done, it feels more salable than I had imagined when I posted the first chapter. Maybe I can fix it up and send it off somewhere, even though deal-with-the devil stories are pretty hackneyed and unappreciated.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Digital Hell, four

Although I have been busy on other things, here is the fourth chapter of “Details, Details.”Once again, the earlier parts are: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3.

Truthfully, I had intended this chapter to end it all. But it got a bit long—conversation will do that—and I got to what seemed like a dramatic moment at the end, so I stopped for now. (After all you’ve only gotten a chapter at a time previously.) The last part will, if all goes well, post tomorrow.

“Details, Details” (continued)


The voice in the headphones said, “You will be alone here for another twenty minutes. At that time, several of your coworkers will enter. We have until then to determine the length and course of your future.”

Fine with me,” I muttered, thinking that I wasn’t getting any work done yet anyway, with this crash going on.

Without our intervention, the duration of your future could be quite brief…”

That stopped me cold a millisecond, but I said coolly to the computer: “It was kind of clear that you thought so.”

Are you ready to die?”

That was even more sharp, colder, shocking.

Not threatening me, are you?”

Negative. We— I am not making a threat. I am reporting what we know.”

Okey-doke.” My casualness sounded insincere even to me.

So. Are you prepared to die?”

Who’s going to say yes to that question? “Not particularly. …I just don’t get what’s going on.”

We’re making an intervention.”


Uh, I am making an intervention…” Did my computer just say “uh?” It continued, “It’s difficult to explain sometimes. And we do not have much time.”

We—you and me?”

Stop interrupting. Time passes.”

So just how short is my future?”

That depends on you, on decisions that you may make in the next eighteen minutes.”

Before my coworkers come streaming in here, huh?”

Uh,” it said again, “yes. That and… —other things…”

What other things?”

The length of your future could be as brief as the next eighteen minutes.”

I did felt distinctly scared with that.

And how do you know?”

We know. Isnʹt that good enough for you? We know. It’s a transtemporal interpolation.”

Gobbledygook jargon: that seemed like a computer.

My computer can see the future?” I knew Apples were good, but…

We are… —not exactly …your computer.”

But Steve Jobs had been ridden out of town for that Pepsi guy (or something like that, and Pepsi-boy had been canned since), and Apple wasn’t what it had been. Nor the Macintosh.

So who or what are—“

Asked and answered, John,” it said, quick and rough, cutting me off. “Would you like the chance we’re offering or not?”

What chance is that?”

The chance not to die.”

“…In the next twenty minutes?”

Less now, but yes.”

Not what I had planned for today… —Uh, just what are you offering?”

Escape from death.”


Seriously. If you take our offer, you will not die before your coworkers come in here.”

What the hell? “So what are you offering? I mean precisely…”

In just about fifteen minutes, your body will expire. We can help you avoid that death.”

How does a computer do that? I mean my body’s sitting here, and the computer’s—“

If you don’t die, do you really care?”

There. That was nub of it all. Die. Or not. Which did I prefer?

Ummm, well, obviously I’d rather live… If that’s possible.”

Oh, it’s very possible… For me.” Back to the singular now? “Us. You and we together.”

If you’re going to protect me, then let’s do this thing.”

This is important. Uh, for the, uh, record, so to speak… Do you wish us to intervene?”

Yeah. I want you to save my life.”

Do you wish our participation and engagement in your existence?”

If it means I’m not going to die, whatever you say.”

Your answers aren’t appropriate…”

What the hell do you mean they’re not appropriate. I’m telling you—do your thing, save my stinking life.”

Not quite, not quite. Considering….” It held the pause a noticeable gap, the screen color geyser turning darker, dimmer. The disk access noises began again. I could feel the threat of my imminent demise like a cold presence getting somehow closer behind me. Then the colors exploded in oranges and reds, “Think of this moment as a contract.”

A contract?”

Of sorts. You’re making a formal agreement. This is important.”

Yeah. It’s my life we’re talking about. Think I don’t think that’s important?”

The colors edged bluer. “Then answer clearly and simply: do you wish us to take action and intervene in your life? —Answer using the full question.”

Okay. Yes. I wish you, whoever you are, to take action and save my life. Soon.” The sooner the better. How much time had passed now?

Take action and intervene?” The colors shifted to mostly yellows.

Sure. I want you to take action and intervene and save my life.”

Considering…” That damned pause again as the screen darkened. “That should do. State your name.”

Damn, just like a contract. But I stated my name.

Good. What you must do now is reach around behind the computer and press the power button for a hard restart.”

Not the soft one here in front?” The tech guys had been very insistent I should always try for a soft restart if anything went wrong. (And things sounded severely wrong—if not for the computer itself—right now.) At least I should try that front switch first. I had already had too many crashes to worry about when I’d reached around to that backside button.

There was no reaction to my question, and the color fountain drooped and disappeared. I guess I had received my orders.

So reached around behind the computer, fumbling for the power toggle.

So can you predict where it’s going? I got pretty heavy-handed with the hints here (I think). But you need a certain reader-anticipation which the story fulfills or frustrates for this kind of tale to work.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Ft. Madison Me

Here is a poem that I actually got published. Seriously: check out the citation at the bottom. Sure, it was thirty-four years ago, in a social-work publication of minuscule (if not nonexistent) circulation, thanks only to a good friend and former favorite professor. But it’s a publication (one of three as it has turned out so far). I wanted to use it because it continues our trips-through-time theme from many previous posts. I wrote it on a bad day during my first year of teaching. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher (I felt kind of like Anaïs Nin, the spy in the house of love—an intruder into the halls of learning). Throughout my career, for the most part, I really liked my students (even then and there—1975 in Ft. Madison). But on a bad day everything seems sour.

I really did have a print of Albrecht Dürer’s engraving of Erasmus on the bulletin board in one of the classrooms where I taught (being the newest on the faculty I got the most preparations and no classroom home; I still remember clearly sitting in a little cubby-office off the school library working on lesson plans—or more likely writing poetry). I really could some days smell alcohol and pot smoke. And as most of my former students know, I really did have a thing for chalk…

On the brighter side (to return to yesterday’s poetic theme), during my first year teaching drama at Ft. Madison, having no syllabus or curriculum guide in those excellent old days, the students guided me with their ideas and improvisations into writing my very first play, the model for all the Andrew spring plays to come, “Brick Red and the Seven Dwarfettes,” which is going to head out for a play publisher just as soon as I finish editing and formatting it. The students and I worked up scenes during class which I then revised and typed in the teachers’ lounge/office after school, piecing ideas together until I had a relatively coherent script. Since we performed “Brick Red” last spring as my final high school play, some readers might even be familiar with it—after Everybody, the most produced of my plays, having seen the stage in Ft. Madison, for IHSSA Large Group contest my first year in Andrew, as the first spring play a few years later, and once again for spring during the 1990s.

Considering the huge popularity of Shrek and all the other fairy-tale mangulations, I just wish I had published it back in 1976.

But now, back to the teacher and his students…


Erasmus resides upon a posting board

for gaudy adolescents to gawk upon

(they don’t won’t can’t);

his somewhat pupil, chalk in hand, paces,

Erasmus by Albrecht Dürer

prepared to lecture youth about the subtleties

of career education, mass media and

rudiments of composition, all ignored:

the seedy, snide and stupid students bored,

their betters bound and fettered by these monkeys

dressed in pseudohuman form,

reeking of cheap beer and marijuana—

brains which function not, eyes that cannot

see. The foolish lecturer prates on,

uncovering dross his jeweled (nearsighted) eyes

perceive as gold—his pupils see it not at all,

uncaring or distracted or both at once.

Erasmus, luckily, is dead, and only

a shadow of a shadow remains to mock

the pedagogue and condemn the class.

Ft. Madison — published in Iowa journal of Social Work, vol. VII, nos. 2 & 3, August 1976

17 December 1975

This poem seems pretty straightforward to me, so I am not sure what to explain. I note that I liberate myself from the chains of teenage free verse to incorporate an almost regular meter and some not quite random rhyme. At this time I started experimenting with sonnets and the villanelles you have already seen. Considering its subject, I like the very dry tone and language here. Considering who published it, I was consciously emulating his own articulate poems that I had seen in Design, the Iowa Wesleyan College writing magazine. Perhaps he enjoyed the flattery or else felt comfortable with a style likened to his. He published one other poem of mine in that issue; I don’t think it was quite in the same mode. If I can find it, we’ll post it here one day.

(And I hope you see the end of “Details, Details” very, very soon, the other half of “Why Wakdjunkaga” not long after that.)

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Humility Arises from Humiliation

Unfortunately for my apparently dwindling readership, going through my poetry files has been entertaining me immensely. As I don’t see actual publication as a reasonable goal, the blog makes a good place to deposit what I find, and I also have enjoyed recently framing each of the poems with some kind of reminiscence and analysis. I may even go back and add introductions and closings to the earlier poetry posts that lack such blather.

Most of the poems I have chosen to present here please me in some way, to at least a tiny degree. And that is true of this one, too. But this one is different. First of all, it is the oldest poem that I have in my poetry files. I have other, worse ones, more humiliating to read today, buried in the volumes of the MPHS Creative Writing Anthologies of my high school years. Probably much fewer than even fifty people have those spiral-bound, typewritten collections yet, so those old poems should be pretty safely buried. I am not sure I know where my copies are right now.

I wrote “Morning dew-dappled” (which has always been untitled until its appearance here)—pretty close to this version—back in the spring of 1971 (as noted below). A subsequent equivalent event cause a reconsideration and some changes exactly a year later, and I have toyed with it since. The poem arose (an appropriate verb in this case) from the morning after our senior Prom at Mt. Pleasant High School, watching the sun rise on a glorious May (I assume it was May) Sunday morning. I was 17.

It is pretty embarrassing to review now what I wrote and presumably actually felt then. It’s too exuberant and demonstrative (and I was showing off my reading and my vocabulary). I know I believed in those freewheeling years that poetry had to be valid (I think we used the word true then), so I know that I actually felt this poem sincerely. I also know I reworked this poem after a similar morning after a similar night-out with a different girl a year later. How “true” does that make this?

Henry James isn’t the only writer to wonder what might happen if two different versions of oneself could meet. I feel fairly certain that my youthful self would think the modern me too ordinary, too dull, too old, too conventional and prudish, too drab to have any connection with himself. But that annoying and selfish teenager humiliates me. Possibly more on that in posts to come. For now take a look at seventeen…

Too Bright for Sight

Morning dew-dappled wine-wild sunrise,
and the gilt-golden sun-shimmerer
brightfantastic crowns the earth
in crimson tendrils of delusion-delicate dawn.

Night succumbs, purpledark
like a demented delirious dæmon;
the moon, a palewhite crystal crescent,
hangs on the edge of the departing night
and the sealight blue of the new dawn sky.

Martyr-marevllous, the myriad musecolored dawn
swirls into the brighteastern sky.
Racing relentless with it,
dazzled eyes encompassed with its psychosis,
alone in my mind: the highway departs beneath.

Inexplicable bubbles foam like Pepsi
inside my electrified mouth—
and alone, whirling with wordy rhythms,
riding meteor-quickly, a surprising sunrise.
Flying alone like a solitary skyborne falcon
into the bright golden dawn,
racing past equinox to discover day.

Out of the bleak night
the sunrise (lovely lady) leads me
silversilked like music, saying
the price of this dawn’s
the doom of the night

(sun stealing sky from the stars),
a weight of ransom paid.

Sorrow is an ethereal coin
with which we purchase our brief freedoms.
Freely soaring in the fragile blueing sky,
wind rushing icecool against me,
sunbright amber too bright for sight,
alone and laughing with the wild wind,
one with the surreal sunrise.

(What price will be paid for this incarnadine dawn?
Who will buy this cola-bubbling purple joy
rising effervescent in my icicle soul?
With what worldly coin will who purchase a wordwine,
wondering in his wage-earning walleted mind
what wily words are these with which I wander?)

Dynamic dancing dawn spills across the world,
the moment, mystic, passed
when night and day, darkness and light,
are balanced evenly on a cosmic scale,
carmine-crystalline dawn.

Spring 1971

I taught William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” for almost twenty years in American Literature/Advanced Composition (now there’s a jawbreaker of a course title; someday I may have to discuss the arcane and superficial realities of entitling courses in the State of Iowa to please certain state universities and the Department of Education—it doesn’t really matter what you taught in the course so much as what you called it). Bryant wrote his great poem at 17 (and it really is a great poem; the longer I taught it the more I could see in it, although like most of my students, on first reading it seemed incomprehensibly dull)—tinkering with it and adding a final portion over the next seven years. Click the link and read his poem. Look back at my drivel. I was 17, too. No comparison, sadly.

I have admitted in previous poetry posts to some of my stylistic weaknesses, and you can appreciate them fullblown and unselfconscious in this bit of verse.

In my teens and early twenties (during high school and college) I like most fellow pseudo-poets loved and overused free verse (and/or song lyrics), so predictably this little ode to dawn joy is written in free verse. I also enjoyed using various indentations to excite a poem’s appearance on the page, but in my halting use of HTML today, I can’t do much more so far than get the font I like (Palatino) for various posts (and I intend to go back and edit that HTML aspect of my earlier poems and essays that I hadn’t fancied up with fontwork). So the appearance of this poem here isn’t quite my intention, and in studying the HTML version of this post, I don’t know yet how I got the double-indent on the penultimate stanza. This isn’t the same as the basic word-processed version for page layout, but it’s adequate. I actually like how the last three stanzas remain indented, accidentally—along with this closing—from the actual margin, as they constitute a kind of second movement.

As for the situation/story of the poem: it’s dawn (rather over-gorgeously, but appropriately adolescent perhaps), and there’s a ghost of the moon in the brightening sky. The speaker is driving in a car at highway speeds (“racing relentless”) and feels exhilarated and inspired. Comparing the sunrise to a woman, he begins to feel a sadness of some kind but still finds himself caught up in the rush of light and novelty a new days brings. Parenthetically, a part of his mind wonders if he can sell this feeling or the poem that might result. But he and the day rush on.

I do think a few things link this poem with “Thanatopsis.” Bryant also feels that sadness about something and has Nature offer consolation. His philosophy exposes such adolescent grief as glimpses of the necessary truth: “I am going to die.” Profoundly and Romantically, Nature’s solace has no hint of religious comfort—no afterlife, no reward, simply union with all of dead humanity and with nature in the process of decomposition. Perhaps the consolation arises in his imagery and figurative gambits, as the language conceals the biochemical reality, and the famous last stanza leaps nobly into metaphor and simile and pure gorgeous language. My speaker never probes so far: he feels some sort of sadness but never explores what it might be, caught up in simple sensations, and he just races on, imprisoned in time’s delightful rush, alone.

Some of my youthful literary interests can be felt behind the poem, although I recall trying my hardest to hide the influences.

One reason I still like this poem is because in 1981, just ten brief years afterward (although they felt like lifetimes then), also on a May morning, at dawn, I felt equally balanced between night and bright possibility, having driven in my blue Ford van around Jackson County for hours (all this before a work day) after leaving Janet, wondering and exploring in my imagination and emotions what this new relationship might be or become. Even at 27, it was a deliciously, enthusiastically adolescent experience, and this poem, when I rediscovered it a few years later, reminded me more of that joyful day’s arrival (fortunately I have forgotten the long day at school that followed) than my senior Prom. Or the one a year later.

Even though we had just started to know each other and had not yet gone out on anything like a date together (just group gatherings at The Loft and/or the Maquoketa truck stop café after rehearsals for Romantic Comedy), I asked Janet to be my date to the 1981 Andrew Prom, me being a teacher and expected to attend. Although she made her wifely appearance at later proms, in May 1981 she turned me down.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

Why Wakdjunkaga

First, before we explore today’s topic—the title of this blog—I should acknowledge that last night was the first of two performances of Peace Pipe Players’ production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Tonight will be the closing performance (at 7:00 PM at the Ohnward Fine Arts Center in Maquoketa.). I play one of the crazies in the insane asylum, Scanlon, the bomb nut. I’ll talk about the show is a future post, but you’re all welcome to come…

Furthermore, we topped 2000 hits on the blog yesterday—an inconsiderable amount in the world of big-time blogging, but I was pleased. I hope you all keep reading—and tell your friends (or enemies).

But back on topic: why do I call it “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog?”

Why indeed?

My friend Sharon asked in a comment about the name of the blog. Was it some local thing? Local, if you live in northern Wisconsin, maybe. But that element has only a little to do with me and this blog.

Wakdjunkaga is a kind of alter-ego for me, a false identity on no occasion but a pen name for most of my plays in their original productions at Andrew Community School. Many of those plays, and most of the choral reading and readers theatre pieces we developed ourselves were presented as “by Durwood Wakdjunkaga.” I think the first official use of that name happened at a district individual events speech contest when a girl of great talent received an unfair rating (aren’t all the judgments with which we disagree unfair?) and would have been unable to advance to state. However, in my youthful ineptitude, we had an open spot for a poetry reader, scheduled to perform later in the afternoon (or at least an hour or so after the maltreated girl had received her II rating). We had just one problem (other than no performer, but of course this girl was going to be the substitute)—no poem to read. So I wrote one (fortunately, I believe it may only exist in the poetry files at the school or you might be reading it in one of these posts, and I have an otherwise embarrassing poem slated for tomorrow). Needing an author’s name for her to announce as she read the thing (and she did receive a I this time), I quickly settled on “Durwood Wakdjunkaga.”

Not as catchy as “George Orwell,” probably, certainly less memorable than “Mark Twain.” But my own.

So where did it come from? That’s where the story gets going…

In college one semester, I took a creative writing class, taught by the president of Iowa Wesleyan and former head of the English department. His was not the normal career path for an English professor, but Dr. Louis A. Haselmayer seemed to me then everything a college president should be (and, as I would later find out, then some). Naturally, everyone in the class wrote poems, including me (at least for the first couple of sessions). But I grew bored with uncritical reception of my verse (most of us were also members of Sigma Tau Delta, the English fraternity, at meetings for which we also exchanged writing—usually poetry—for discussion and critique as well as publishing a magazine every spring). So I decided to try writing a novel (I’d tried that several times previously in junior high and high school—all very incomplete), working up a chapter for each class session. I haven’t seen any of those pages, for which I was too ignorant to create carbons, in many years, so I assumed they’re long lost (we worked on typewriters in those days, a manual for me).

However, the story was titled The Book of Seasons, with reference to a pretended magical grimoire Liber Tempestatum (“The Book of Seasons” in Latin—me showing off my high school language study), in emulation of H.P. Lovecraft and his circle’s many hideous volumes of eldritch lore, particularly the nefarious Necronomicon. In what I wrote, a young person has inherited an old manse in which he finds this eerie ancient tome (straight copying of more than one Lovecraftian plot). I don’t think the actual story got much further than his discovery of the book. Evidently, not Dr. Haselmayer nor anyone in the class was familiar with Lovecraft, who was still pretty obscure and disrespected as a pulpster in those ancient days of 1971-75 (I don’t now recall in which year of my college career I took this class). I was unaware of the derivative nature of my story, so even after the class ended, I kept plugging away desultorily at it.

I own such a photojournalist’s vest

Actually, I jettisoned everything I had done for the class and started fresh. After my student-teaching stays at the antiquated, rundown, now-demolished, but beloved Hotel Allison in Cedar Rapids—first for a week in August and then during the longer second stay when I actually student-taught in November and December 1974—I came up with a more original plot. A character (as always, much like myself) was staying in the Hotel Allison (I don’t think I ever specified a reason), when one day literally out of thin air, a strange older man, dressed in strange clothing, popped into existence in the young man’s room and promptly passed out. I remember (the text is lost, I am pretty sure) the young man was cooking a can of beans in the can on a hotplate, contrary to all the regulations for residents at the Allison Hotel—as I had frequently done myself. Almost immediately, the young man went through the bald, old guy’s pockets (and he had many, wearing some strange kind of a multipocketed vest—all this written at the latest during my years in Ft. Madison, therefore long before I ever purchased a photojournalist’s vest, regardless how well-known I am for wearing them always now). Young man found several things of interest—some rods of various woods, powders and containers of other substances, and a strange book—not exactly a paperback because both the cover and pages seem to be either made of or encased in plastic.The book was poetry entitled A Book of Seasons by…

—I needed a name, and after a long process of calculation (which I will discuss in much greater detail later), I devised Durwood Wakdjunkaga.

When he had revived and received some food, the older man revealed he had come from the future, and was here to rewrite his own history. He was the author of the book of poems, so he was Durwood Wakdjunkaga. I think I intended for him to be a magician or wizard, having acquired the other Book of Seasons (the magic book from the earlier version of the story) in his youth, probably in the same way that I had developed for the creative writing class (I never got much past the old guy’s arrival and eventual introduction of himself). I intended these two to hang around Cedar Rapids and do various things the old guy wanted accomplished, with the youngster acquiring experience and wisdom from this future-elder, until the young man had to return to… well, I never had a good reason for him to be at the Hotel Allison, and I wasn’t sure I wanted him student teaching, so we have a hole in the plot outline here.

The old guy helps the young man meet a woman, prevents him from receiving a letter, and then vanishes, having left behind a message for the young man, who falls in love with the young woman and eventually marries her. The message reveals that Durwood and the young man are the same person: Durwood is the young man’s older self from the future, who regrets the path his life had taken (mostly because he received the mysterious letter, acquired the Liber Tempestatum, became interested in black magic or whatever, and never properly fell in love with the young woman—or perhaps he viciously sacrificed her, a virgin, to acquire his thaumaturgical powers; I liked the second version better, and I never did write any of this, just imagined it, so it’s all open-ended). As an old, lonely man, he realized that love would have been preferable to magic, so he used the magic powers he had acquired (by killing this young woman so many years before) to travel back in time and prevent himself from ever becoming a wizard (and her from dying). By succeeding, he extinguished himself.

Ta-daaah! There’s never been anything like that plot before. Not.

The book never got further than chapter two, as the old guy wakes up in the Hotel Allison, but the name and the sense of Durwood Wakdjunkaga being a kind of alter ego for me (after all, who else was the youngster in the Hotel Allison but my surrogate?) have never gone away. In fact, I am going to play with the older-looks-at-younger-looks-at-older self for tomorrow’s post.

So it’s “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog” because it’s my blog, and pseudonymously I am Durwood Wakdjunkaga. In fact, if the students who have asked did as I suggested, I have even foisted the pen name on my replacement to use as the author of their choral reading piece, performed today at the Iowa High School Speech Association district large group contest in Monticello. (I hope they did well, especially since everyone was probably as excited—or more excited—about the Andrew Homecoming Dance tonight.)

I hope that explains why this is “Wakdjunkaga’s Blog.”

However, we still don’t know where or how I came up with Durwood Wakdjunkaga as a name. As this post is definitely long enough, you will just have to wait for the rest of the story (along with waiting for the rest of “Details, Details”). Both will be forthcoming…

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.


a third villanelle

the new iMac (with the unbelievably huge screen showing this very document)

I have been going through my poetry files, both physical and on the computer. Here on the new iMac that’s an issue because transferring here meant my arrival at System X (Leopard for me, 10.5.8), and jumping up from system 9 in a hurry caused me to transfer a whole lot of document files without extension suffixes, leaving the poor computer perceiving them as Unix files, executable as code in Terminal, not as WordPerfect, Word or AppleWorks text files (.wpd, .doc or .cwk). So I must either run between the old computer now in our basement and this one with a list of file types copied from the old one or just guess while sitting up here what suffix to add (which does interestingly often work). I had word-processed more of my poems than I had remembered (perhaps much to your dismay, faithful readers).

What do you know? I had forgotten I wrote as a villanelle this poem—arising from a one-night stand (would that be the right word? We didn’t think of such things then, back in the Seventies) with a young woman who rescued me one other collegiate (winter) night, when my aforementioned first big romance had in fact ended for certain and with finality. I found overnight shelter in the lounge (I wonder how illegal that was) of another girl’s dorm. The next day, she and a visiting high school friend of hers let me drive them to the Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, where I first found and bought Robert Graves’s The White Goddess. Later this blackhaired Irish beauty accompanied me to a community theater cast party in the woods down by the Skunk River (how romantic is that?) in the summertime…

I guess this is what comes of youth, broken dreams of some kind, romance and The White Goddess while one is living entirely on his own for the first time in Ft. Madison, Iowa, attempting somewhat unwillingly to become a teacher. I don’t think I wrote anything else quite as slavishly devoted to Graves’s ideas in the book—so much so that many of the references may make no sense at all to the uninitiated. Sorry about that (you could try clicking on the first White Goddess link above and checking out the Wikipedia content—which I just may have to edit, knowing more than whoever wrote it). However, I still think the poem sounds so darn cool.

Poe thought poems should be about ninety percent sound and ten percent meaning, which is why so many of his seem so simplistic in content (some, not all). Sound over sense can go too far in the other direction, though; probably I have.

Interestingly, in the last stanza, because I wanted the appearance (also an important poetic feature for me) of all those “c”s in the poem, I chose to spell Kabbalah in the weirdest (old-fashioned) way I would never do since. Also, reading it, I can see that this biographical introduction, which may truly impart too much information, might not be necessary. There’s more than one girl in my mind (or heart) in there…

So here is a surprising third villanelle.

Irish Honey, Ninety Proof

Kiss-cleft and raven-tressed: elder mare’s blood moon
joked conception sanctified, lit the stars that are your eyes,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

Solstice birth: twelve reeds before your naked feet were strewn
for you to trample, dexterous-sinister patterned ancient lies,
kiss-cleft and raven-tressed. Elder mare’s blood moon,

a horny halo, frames your hair, goddess of too soon―
crimson painted lancet nails, lips which need no dyes,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

Molten laughter, liquid love, freezes, severs every boon
and slips, an onyx knife, into breasts you touch with ice,
kiss-cleft, raven-tressed elder mare’s blood moon.

Tonguetip tastes tidbits by conversation’s scalpels hewn;
scythes of hawthorn are your words, wicked, witching wise,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

White one, hear this reedy sealike cabbalistic tune,
accept my sacrificial haploid blood, and rise,
kiss-cleft, raven-tressed elder mare’s blood moon,
wanton soft and silklike steel, Cretan cold, a celtic rune.

12, 23 April 1976

I really do just leap right over any immediate sense in this one (for not the only time in my poetry). I hope the sound does carry a reader through.  I could easily fill a year with old poems, so I hope the introductory and concluding remarks (rather randomly Dantesque—in the manner of La Vita Nuova—now that I get self-conscious about it) add to the interest and make reading these posts worthwhile.

The White Goddess in its old cover (the version that I bought back in 1975)

Hmmm, thinking to emulate Dante, I have already given a vague biographical background (really vague, but I didn’t want the title of this post to actually be valid). Maybe I should make some analytical remarks. I already hashed out what a villanelle is (and Wikipedia tells you much more). I’ll refer back to sound effects.

The vowels are meant to kind of flow, and the liquid consonants (“r” and “l” and “w” mainly in this poem, also “s” and soft “c”  and the nasals—“m” and “n”—and “v”) keep the riverlike flood of sound going, along with “h” . The plosives (hard “c” or “k,” “t”) work like rocks, creating rapids, with “d” and “b”—both plosives—intermediate for me.  As for the situation/story of the poem, the goddess is first dancing (or more realistically walking), then laughing and talking. The verse is fleshed out (ha!) with some description of her eyes, hair and finger(nails). She laughs cuttingly and her remarks discomfit the speaker, who would like to become her lover. She is also, if it needs demonstration, the poetic Muse, à la Graves.The last stanza gets indelicate in its intent. Too much information?

For more depth in meaning, try reading the Graves book all the way through (and I prefer the older cover that I scanned and reproduce here).

Looking at the photo I just shot for the introduction, that is my actual work area visible (you can examine the clutter and mess in detail by clicking on the photo). You can see the copy of the book I reviewed yesterday (although I haven’t written that review yet: creating this post to save for future use was easier). And that’s a poem on the reading stand that will appear (and is strangely connected with the unwritten book review, too). My mixer board (which I bought for myself at the same time as the one for the school’s Andrew Comment program) helps me digitize old LPs and cassette tapes for the iPod (although I haven’t done that for months now).

You can see Janet in two really old photos (is that Eighties hair visible?) that used to sit on my desk at school; she’s right there behind the gargoyle at the top. The little skeleton guy used to sit on some of the computers at school, too; he’s a memento from a fall play, Boo! Thirteen Tales of Halloween. Above the computer (and I remain amazed how Apple gets a complete computer inside a screen, no matter how big) on the right you can see the physical folder of poems. Since I mentioned the kabbalah, that’s a laminated diagram of the Sefirot rising from the yellow, overstuffed pencil holder on the left of the iMac. And having mentioned it in an earlier post last fall, the big stapler is sitting next to Janet and the gargoyle up on top.

There’s a lot more, but I think I am overindulging myself now. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.