“Two Steps Back”

Hereʼs a poem, probably inspired the second major girlfriend of my adult life, as I have not posted anything even pseudo-romantic from that period. Considering the early date (for that relationship, which actually bloomed later that same summer), this one is only a fantasy item. Perhaps that explains the silly/simple wordplay  — although I still enjoy the sound effects and flow of the whole thing, particularly those sonically enthused final lines. Itʼs not much of a poem overall, but some of the phrases have stuck in my head over the decades, so I have come to feel it has a little quality to it (probably very little, but I am not claiming to be much of a poet, after all; thatʼs why I throw them away here).

The red and gold allude to her appearance, at least to my imagination. Janet has commented on my youthful weakness for redheads (in her terms). Except for the sound of it, I am not sure about the semi-Shakespearean “O of gold” unless I have simply forgotten some event in life or a ring that she possessed. (Ironically, or supernaturally, I did make an uncomfortable and inappropriate proposal later. I have been intrigued/spooked by how my poems have sometimes sort-of predicted future events, but as a realist chalk that up to coincidence, usually.) As a writer, I undoubtedly felt it was time/line enough to return to the golden imagery/ideas.  — Whatʼs missing in this poem, although almost omnipresent in all later ones inspired by her presence, is music (thus the title, however incongruous  — and Iʼll let each of you discover the allusion), the most important aspect of the person who introduced me to Traffic (that very summer) and enjoyed my homemade 8-track tapes of The Brandenburg Concertos in my van (later on in time). Even prophetic poetry misses all the important stuff all the time.

The biographical elements of this epoch get slightly uncomfortable for me, as this woman was younger than me by several years. She and a girlfriend (who my imagination seized upon as being “silver gold” and whose presence lay behind the ladder-master poem I put up a while back) took advantage of then then-Iowa law, permitting eighteen-year-olds to drink, to get me, so elderly at 22, to go out with them several times that summer, enjoying too much sangria at The Ground Round in Burlington, since closed, back when Ground Rounds had peanut shells on the floor of the lobby and gave you free popcorn. Both girls shook my fancy and provided me imaginary material for verse and romance (and this particular poem may have begun its existence referring to silver and gold rather than red and gold… Such are the embarrassing ambiguities of mixing life and art, such as it is/was). By the end of that summer I was comfortably enraptured simply with red-gold. The next summer staff reduction moved me to Maquoketa, and by November 1977, our relationship, although enshrined in fiction, was over. We got back together temporarily about a year after that, thus some lengthy Friday night drives to her new college in Indiana, to which I have referred before. And after that spasm of interest we both headed for our real lives, me meeting Janet for certain (we had encountered each other earlier) in 1981, and this lady to finer things (including my preferred university that dumped me with other excess freshmen back in ʼ71, thus promoting my attendance at Iowa Wesleyan) and greater successes than mine.

On the other hand (referring far back to the notion that I revised this to change its subject/muse), I think what I really did was to revise this poem to suit the other girl, temporarily, insincerely and unsuccessfully during June, and then threw those versions, if there ever were any, out. I do still have some silver-gold poems left; perhaps I should pair some of the “rival” verses some time.

The title came later, part of the process of revision, which for my poetry has been important but not always complicated, reflective or substantial. With my Sixties/Seventies ideas of Romanticism influencing my writing, I generally got something down and then stuck with what I had to assume was some kind of inspiration if I liked what I had written at all. The revision thus became relatively minor fiddling, in most cases, with word choices here and there, adjustments for rhythm, or line division on a free verse item like this (and/or even disguising regular meter and rhyme by breaking the lines otherwise than first settled, as I did with “Freyaʼs Steel” and some others). Once the rhythm and sound were set, all I usually did was tinker on the typewriter. Unfortunately, that same technique led easily into my playwriting and (although less simply) fiction. I futz with things but have not been a huge reviser, not usually “re-seeing” what I have written from the ground up.

This particular poem only ever had a few words adjusted. And I ignored the spellchecker in digitizing this (and other poems) to maintain my own invented words. The closing colon came relatively early to the poem, and although a little too cute, works well enough for me.

Auric Rose

actual red gold, appropriately Asian…

Golden girl — red gold, gold gold, perfect as gold,

bright and beautiful — fool’s gold

befuddling pedantic minds:

effulgent fragile speculations interspersed

and seeded well with H. Bosch and Adam Smith collaborated

visions of damnation, and of course

calamity set in a perfect O of gold

hair gold, firegold, aurulent virulent, sunguilt goldiferous

buxom bullion beautiful —

lovely as sherry and warm as so:

16 May 1976

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

Recollections of Travel: Vehicles

Janet and I have been discussing what to do on vacation. We haven’t come to any decisions of any kind. Yet. I think she’d like to do something dramatic as we did last year — Prague. She has brought up Budapest more than once, and the idea has some appeal for me. No discussion of when any trip will be (nor just how weʼre going to fund the adventure), but the whole deal has got me thinking about our travels, which is a topic I have not addressed on the blog really.

from brother Davidʼs website — David atop the camper

My family used to take a vacation every summer, generally long and torturous escapades in a car, meaning endless hours sweating in a backseat and usually feeling mildly carsick. We also used to camp out — probably more a matter of financial resources than a genuine pleasure in the outdoors (but I’m not sure about that). All I know is that my parents were generally moderately grumpy regularly during our vacations. It couldn’t have anything to do with what non-angelic angels we kids were.  Fairly early on, my father bought a pop-up camper — one of those fold-open, tent-topped, boxlike affairs (click the link for other pictures). The metal top folded back to each side, front and back, and the tent, folded up within the box when closed, raised over all of this, leaving the top flaps as two bed units when supported underneath by braces. The middle area had a sink and an icebox (truly: you needed ice to keep things cold) and possibly a cooking surface (because I think I remember an LP container attached to the basic box of the folded-up camper).

Later on, we also bought a tent into which my brother Paul and I were placed and which we had to erect on the campsites. Overall, although the ground was generally hard and lumpy I preferred the isolation of the tent to the communal issues inside the camper. Even later on, after I had stopped going along with the family (during my college years, I believe), my dad acquired an RV, a large buslike vehicle with a galley kitchen, a shower stall, a lavatory and a toilet, and several fold-down sleeping units. I never went camping in this thing, which actually made its way to Alaska and back —  although my youngest brother David, a great fan of our family vacations, would know for sure, the Alaska trip being one of his favorites. In retrospect it was foolish of me as a pseudo-independent college youth to shun the vacations in favor of time at home alone with girlfriends and friends because I’ve never been to the places they visited, Alaska in particular.

not really all that much like ours, but it stirs the memories

I got to drive the giant RV on several occasions, one memorable time being my second year of teaching when for some reason I do not remember I was assigned to take the thing to Cedar Rapids one weekend. The task was a pleasure on several counts. First, driving the huge bus northward on U.S. 218, even before that stretch of highway was four-laned as part of the Avenue of the Saints, was pretty cool to me, and I also enjoyed tooling around CR in the vast vehicle. Second, the girlfriend of the time was a freshman at Coe College, and the vehicle gave us a site for nightly cuddling without the cost of a hotel room (and sadly, I had more than once used the infamous Hotel Allison — not a location inspirational to romance however much it smacked of adventure and maturity to me from my student-teaching days just two years earlier). That massive RV was also my bedroom when I came home for weekends after beginning my teaching career, the basement dive I had carved out for my own domain late in high school and during college having been quickly reverted to something more acceptable to my father and mother (probably storage space for my fatherʼs collection, post-nuclear-holocaust in dimensions, of canned goods from Warehouse Market — you would not believe the quantity of canned green beans we were dividing amongst five unwilling offspring in the weeks after my dadʼs funeral). I still fondly savor the memory of playing The J. Geils Bandʼs Blow Your Face Out album on some rickety record player I had scavenged in that RV late at night some weekend while I was living in Ft. Madison.

the beetle, right year and color — even then mine didnʼt look this good

The RV or the camping experience also may have inspired my choice of second personal vehicle in my adult life — having been first persuaded into purchasing a VW beetle by my Volkswagen-loving father, a bug that leaked oil like a sieve and later collided massively with a runaway deer (leaving me with a crunched front end on the driverʼs side when I first moved to Maquoketa). The second vehicle, replacing the lemon bug was a two-toned blue Ford van, purchased in New London. It had two captains chairs in  front and nothing else behind, except the floor had been covered with three-quarter-inch plywood, oil-stained in some places. I built a “bed,” covered with foam rubber in the very rear, leaving an open space of about six feet between the “cab” and the “bed.” I thought I could go anywhere on my own and just sleep in the van. Ha! And I did more than once (learning that having toilet facilities would have been more than nice), sleeping on the streets in Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Minneapolis, Chicago and other places (although I have forgotten how I arranged to eliminate waste or shower in any of these circumstances except when I camped in the parking lot of friend Kevinʼs apartment — sadly now trashed and flooded away, once down on the road by the river behind Hancher, the U of I theatre building and the onetime art museum).

mine had been repainted with a big dark blue swooshy arrow shape on each side

That blue van took three students (two of them sitting in folding lawn chairs! — it was another age indeed) to the International Thespian Festival at Ball State University in Indiana in the summer of 1978 (me thoughtlessly forcing them to listen to the 8-track tape of my newly acquired Bob Dylan album, Street Legal, among other music they probably didnʼt like at all; the 8-track player, not original equipment, I had “installed” myself on the drink deck over the engine housing). That was also the van that I drove repeatedly to Indiana (to a different college) along Interstate 74, with a full pump pot of (then unnamed) Snowy Evenings between the seats beside me for weekends of romance when the girlfriend of the Coe College days resurrected her interest in me for a while a year later. That van was the one that went spinning on black ice, well after midnight in the middle of nowhere (oops, I already said it was Indiana) on a February night, only to end up after two or three revolutions down the highway faced in the proper direction, so I foolishly drove on (successfully).

The blue van departed our lives (by then Janet having made my life “ours”) the autumn after my father died (and I had used some inheritance/insurance money to buy my only new car, the once-mentioned 1984 gray Ford Escort wagon) when two guys saw that it had sat in the same spot outside our house, the one on Arcade Street, for weeks. Desiring a fishing/hunting vehicle, they offered us $600 dollars for it (with an old refrigerator tossed in). I had bought the van for $2200 or $2400 in 1978, so whether it was a good deal or not, we took it, the Escort having greatly replaced the van in my affections. (Why we didnʼt trade the van when I bought the Escort I donʼt know, unless I thought the van would be useful for transporting theatrical stuff — for which it had been very useful and very much used — as the Escort would also prove to be. Maybe the dealer just didnʼt want the van, also.)

The Escort lasted close to a decade. Two pickups later (both used, the earlier Ford a costly mistake overall) brings us to the present.

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

Let Summer Begin…

Although contemporary kids (and their parents and the school boards) seem to think summer should begin with (and therefore school ends by) Memorial Day, I have always felt itʼs summertime once June arrives, as it does today. This year, of course, I have enjoyed the arrival of summer as not for 35 years — with no school, no play rehearsals (academic or community theatre) and with more than expected time for myself. The current/ending job has helped, too, as I got to drive across Jackson County at least three days a week through May, soaking in the lush greens against the blue sky. The advent of ninety-degree temperatures for a while back in April while I trained for the job also queued me for the æstival season (as well as the forty-minute drives to and from the training site and the long lunches — an hour, huge for someone leashed to less than 25 minutes at school — during which I wandered about observing the growth of young plants groping for full maturity).

My Life in Books

Now my job ends (I hope by Wednesday), so much like school terminating all those previous years, leaving me psychologically primed for the hot, fun times. I feel like rereading Ray Bradburyʼs wonderful, not-quite-a-memoir Dandelion Wine (a much-beloved book on the experience of summer for a preteen in a Twenties Midwest so full of flavors still available from my own youth in the early Sixties, but ancient history now). I started on that volume again six years ago, attempting to read in it as I enjoyed lunchtime outdoors at the Area Education Agency in Bettendorf (I was taking my required five hours of education courses to recertify for the final time), but the actual effort of the coursework distracted me before I was a full third into that sensuous, imaginary summer. Then Janet gave me the sequel, Farewell Summer (still unread), restimulating my interest. Maybe this June…

I am also being haunted by a summer book that I needed four rereadings over a twenty-year gap to begin appreciating — F. Scott Fitzgeraldʼs The Great Gatsby, which I felt (at first) that I had to teach once I took over the Andrew American Literature course. The first two years were dreadful (for me, probably for the kids as well) because I had to force myself to read that skinny little volume (partly because I was asking them to tackle too much at a time — two chapters a day!) and I wasnʼt partcilarly inspired by the shallow lives of those selfish rich people in a very different summer of 1922 (different from Bradburyʼs 1928, that is). I had hated it in college (Fitzgeraldʼs poetic style too dense for my immature science-fiction-bred tastes, I guess), and it wasnʼt until the third year using it at Andrew that I keyed into the fact that it was about a single summer and in its own peculiar way captured an essence of summertime in the experiences of the characters — and the readerʼs experience of the prose, too. After that the book began to blossom for me with more secrets and more revelations every year.

Huck himself: it really is good for someone like me to have to appreciate a poor-white-trash punk like Huck

(And I really did miss reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn — aloud to English III for a decade or more — this year, too. Thatʼs another wonderful summer, about eighty years earlier than either of the two already mentioned. Even though the reading-aloud occurred in January and February annually. I want to watch the PBS film of Twainʼs riverboating years, too, Life on the Mississippi; it always made me yearn for summer in the deeps of snow.)

Gatsbyʼs appeal still surprises me, but witnessing and experiencing the wonderful greening of the world this year, itʼs Ftizgeraldʼs phrases I recall… it was a warm season, and I had just left a country of wide lawns and friendly trees …And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. There was so much to read, for one thing, and so much fine health to be pulled down out of the young breath-giving air. — All from the second or third page. Not to mention Daisyʼs frustrated wish to celebrate the longest day of the year but always miss it, or Gatsbyʼs faded yearning to hold onto the the summer and not let it go. I might have to drag it off the shelf…

I also read through all of Heinleinʼs juveniles early in two different summers a long time ago — first when I was ending my junior year in high school, in volumes from the Mt. Pleasant Public Library, then in June after my first year of teaching, deliberately dipping back into a world of excited youth (and repeatedly remaining up all night to finish another book in a single day). The Science Fiction Book Club reprinted all of them in omnibus volumes a few years ago, which I bought, of course, and I want to read those stories in hardback again…

An ellipsis… A fine way to begin a summer… Kind of lazy…

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

Fools Waltz In

So how dumb/foolish am I?

I was all prepared, I thought, for the long weekend, piling up posts to keep everyone amused right through the long weekend/visitation/funeral for Janet and me. But somehow I forgot there were 31 days in May, so the post I slated for June 1 wonʼt appear until tomorrow (June 1). Duh.

I spent Friday afternoon and evening (on and off) writing and formatting those posts, all in preparation for a trip to Mt.Pleasant to see Dawn and Kevin for Memorial Day. We drove to Janetʼs folks first on Saturday to check on her mother and the plans for everything for her grandmotherʼs funeral. We got to eat at the local winery restaurant, which was good after a long time (for me anyway) away from that place. Then we zipped down to Henry County, where Dawn had a busy schedule of eating and drinking activities slated for us, including a long drive southeastwards for celebratory craft/antique/junk shows and a drive into my old (temporary) stomping grounds of Ft. Madison for lunch yesterday. And we had an excellent time (except that every restaurant in Ft. Madison appeared to have closed forever or at least just for Sunday). I did have a good time driving around Ft. M and seeing all the things that I recalled from 35 years ago. And we ate at a little Mexican restaurant, Amigos, that seemed vaguely familiar from some night out in my over-zestful youth. The food was great (and plentiful), but nothing ever measures up to the wonderful stuff Dawn devises for dinners at their house.

We took off Saturday and just returned (11:30 AM Monday). Just in time for me to realize that Memorial Day, as it must, was still in the month of May. So I have to churn out something If I am to maintain the unbroken series of daily posting. This bit of nothing will be it.

I see my friends and former students have utilized  the blog as a substitute for Facebook in my absence. Well and good. And that one or two former friends have taken an interest in the first chapter of the Sepharad story (there will be some more to come, guys, and Iʼll try to reply to the insightful comments already posted, too). I also hope everyone had a fantastic time at the Alumni and Memorial Day activities in Andrew this weekend!

This isnʼt much, but I appreciate the attention (even the opinions contrary to mine) that have been going on here while I was away. I have summerʼs arrival for tomorrow and something different starting Wednesday.

Have a great Memorial Day, all, remembering all those who gave the very most in service to leaders wise and otherwise over the history of this nation.

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

The Other Published Poem

All these tree pictures are from our yard, taken yesterday in the sweltering heat and sun

A while back, I posted a poem that had actually been published (although, as always, I received no remuneration in reward). In that same issue of the Iowa Journal of Social Work, edited for the nonce by friend and former professor Ron Palumbo (thus his choice to publish any poetry at all and to ask me to provide a few selections) was this second poem, one which I preferred to the self-portrait.

It was into Ronʼs married student housing that I once more-or-less gently drove my brotherʼs giant Chevy when its brakes went bad while I was heading up to Iowa City for a weekend away from Ft. Madison and my teaching self. (I needed the building to bring the big behemoth to a stop.) And it was in an apartment owned by his former wife that at an alcoholic and delirious New yearʼs party I had the honor for the one and only time in my life to draw the interest of a gay friend (he hit one me). I was so tipsy I am not sure just how baffled and disoriented this overture made me (after all, just moments before — as I recall the events — we had been discussing the Bahaʼi faith), but I had to refuse as I had my eye on some lovely female at that party (with whom I got as far as that gay friend got with me — sigh). And my sigh is not for some imaginary unreal gay alternate life I might have led — just not me, I am afraid.

This poem came from that same era, when I was fresh and flush in Ft. Madison, teaching my first year and actually making my own money. I think it concerns the break-up (again) of my first big romance, colored as always with poems of that era by The White Goddess (although I think these particular trees owe much more to James Joyce and Ulysses, episode two, Nestor, which ends, “On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins”).

In the poem the sunʼs bright coins cannot buy bliss for my disheartened speaker…

Leaves Taken

And so you’re gone, a poem scarcely spoken,

leaving not even echoes of your presence in the air.

You were a witch, but now the spell is broken —

you’ll master other faces, weaving others through your hair.

All the seasons will recall you, voice and eyes:

still leaves and sunlight spangle wealth from atmosphere,

but such gold coins fill no more pockets (fancied lies),

chlorophyll and photons untranslated. You are not here.

You were the Earth, Gæia, autumn crocus-kissed.

A solar music hummed about your liquid motion,

and all our days were vibrant with the oaken risk

of time and bodies. I knew that love transcends emotion.

Well be now done with me: I never noticed trees, together.

So you take the sun as well, love is like the weather.

Published in the Iowa Journal of Social Work

20 April 1976

Imaginary rewards for those who noticed itʼs a sonnet, one of my first successful ones.

I think the belovedʼs “liquid motion” owes much (or is an allusion, of course) to Theodore Roethkeʼs poem, “I Knew a Woman” (and itʼs also worthwhile to click the link and read his glorious villanelle, “The Waking” — itʼs worth reading all his verse).

My pseudo-scientific self shines through, hinting at the clarified direction into which I would head once I left Ft. Madison behind and moved to Maquoketa (and which owes as much to my love of science fiction as the influence of my science-teaching father), in the ”chlorophyll and photons untranslated” bit. I remember liking the seasonal conflation in “autumn crocus-kissed” (which sounds a bit artsy-fartsy to me now), and the phrase “of time and bodies” which sounds so portentiously (and prophetically!) like the culture of literary theory criticism just then being hatched (in French) for me to discover when I took my Modern Criticism course at St. Ambrose five years later (and under which so many have slaved these long tyrannical decades since to acquire undergraduate degrees in literature).

I am not sure I approve the punctuation in the last line any longer, but I donʼt know how to improve it any more than I did thirty-four years ago. The ending is also trite and wrongheaded — by which I mean false to truth and reality. But maybe thatʼs what I want this speaker to sound like (regardless how much he was once me). Love isnʼt like the weather (unless you emphasize the principles of physics and meteorology all combined to create the someday calculable natural forces that shape the weather on a necessary and unavoidable scientifically determined path — and so far so far beyond our human ken).

My favorite item in the poem is the bit of Greek-chorus wisdom (on which I should expand and expatiate as I did to all those Andrew English students for so long) that love is something more than a feeling or emotion. Because it is.

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

Thursday? Really?

Although I took the center of the day off yesterday to take lunch with The Lovely One (at Carolineʼs again, for you faithful readers, and it was delicious again for both of us), I still worked more than I had intended (in order to have hours saved for this Saturdayʼs payroll effort). The crew is really packing in the EQs. I spent the late afternoon working my way through a two-inch stack of completed questionnaires and making some phone calls. Although our ratio of vacants is definitely going to increase now that we have mostly completed the Leisure Lake region (a vacation community north of Maquoketa, for you non-Jackson County-ers), I still think the crew has been doing a wonderful job. Even my FOS thinks weʼre on the downhill grade for our project. So work goes well and is winding toward a close…

On Tuesday, I also produced fourteen containers of little quiches (plus one daily serving of four quiche-lets, which we consumed yesterday morning), which means I wonʼt have to cook more for 84 weekdays. The next time Iʼll undergo that quiche-preparation-and-cooking process will be after Labor Day (as I just calculated using the Google calendar on my home page), which is a kind of relief to me, making this end to the week much less stressful than the beginning.

On the other hand, it hardly seems possible that today is Thursday. The Andrew track team is out at state, with people actually running today. (Good luck, Hawk speedsters! I know you have worked hard.) I have worked this week (and the work has tried to take over these posts, too), but it doesnʼt seem likely in my mind that the week is nearly ended, culminating by the way with Janet and my wedding anniversary. Yep, weʼll be celebrating 28 years of marital bliss (no sarcasm or any other extra intonations involved here, either) on Saturday. Since we will be totally involved with celebrating our nearly three decades together, we shall have to see what this blog is like for the weekend.

the secondary weapon of the speakerʼs destruction…

For today, in honor of Thursday (which I still cannot believe it is), I have a poem from my rash youth about Thursday, although sadly not about Janet. It may well be the only bit of verse I ever wrote about doing theatre (and doing the thing I most identify with doing about theatre — lighting, the way I earned some money throughout college and at which I have labored regularly in just about every play in which I was involved until this past year of retirement). One would think that something I have done (not counting speech contest work) three to five times a year over four decades would have impinged on my writing more than this one little jotting. (On the other hand, I donʼt have that many poems about teaching, although there are some.)

So hereʼs a little kind-of love poem about preparing the lights for a play. Itʼs actually about discovering a muse to inspire a poem (like this one). This little piece of fantasia originated in reality, but barely.

• • •



Foolishness Magnified

I fell in love while hanging lights:

I looked down laughing, and the ladder

(ladders never fail me — I am a ladder master)

wobbled; the unplugged light in my right

hand twinged electricity up my arm;

the ladder teetered, unbalanced, and

I recognized the signs. The adolescent,

wicked-smiling there below me,

was a woman, though I had not noticed — now

I recognized the signs.

The ladder tottered, and I tumbled, and today

she ignored me blithely (they always do

once I fall), let me splash upon the floor,

and lovely, a lady, passed by.

13 May 1976

Itʼs nice to have a muse

I like the sound and rhythms of this toy enough not to fiddle with some verbiage that might be less than perfect for public display. It creates in its words and patterns of accents just the right feeling/tone and ambiance (to me). The alliteration isnʼt intrusively obvious, I hope, but it works to connect grammatical elements (like some clauses) and to push the little storyline ahead. I also like how the rhythm moves (and changes) with the events/ideas/observations. (And the awful pun on falling in a sort-of love poem doesnʼt plop too flat. Does it?)

I should write something (perhaps a post) on hanging lights. There have been plenty of adventures for me in that trade, too many involving near-death experiences, including (unlike the incident recounted above) actually electrocuting myself on too many occasions (more than once while up a ladder). Recollecting now, and reconsidering, “twinged” may have been too weak a word choice above…

Happy Thursday, all. If I happened to win the PowerBall last night (too appropriate to help celebrate the anniversary), happier than we might imagine!

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


Working to be ready for my week as a Census enumerator trainer, I have delved again into the pot of available material already written to develop a post for today. Being consumed by bureaucracy must be stimulating my poetic sensibilities (or else poetry is the best escape) because todayʼs post is another poem. This one, however, may be R-rated. In these modern days I am not quite sure.

I have already embarrassed myself several times by printing here poems that seem too personal and too obvious. Once I even accidentally (was it a Freudian slip?) posted a poem I was only drafting. I have been thinking of posting this one for a while but have hesitated. Clearly it’s a bit too blatant in its subject matter; I’ve done better bowdlerizing these things in other poems and other posts. But like some of the other embarrassing poems I like this one. A lot. Lines and phrases from it have stuck in my memory for decades and may have shaped my thoughts and life, possibly sad to say. This one ties in with other posted verse connected intentionally or unconsciously to The White Goddess, and it comes from that same era when my first serious and important relationship dissolved and I was first teaching school and living as what I believed was an adult.

For the biographically overinterested, the subject is the same person as in my third discovered villanelle. (It is hard to believe that one incident—combined with a chaste, previous traumatic night in Pella—could so dominate my imagination for so long.) This poem is unfortunately more overt than that villanelle. Thus the title for today…

But letʼs provide some interpretation. No, maybe I had better not. The White Goddess link above (although it will include todayʼs post) provides enough interpretation by me. The rest is mere biography.

The Odyssey — both as I imagined it and as it really has become once I have read and reread the epic (annually in Advanced English) — has influenced my imagination for nearly ever. And Circe is a fascinating (and seductive) figure well beyond my own fevered thoughts. I have just applied her name for a Celtic witch, thus welding two concepts together (I wish). I am not trying to cast the speaker as Odysseus, however.

Another influence is the King Crimson Islands album, which owes its own debt to Homer.

Night Eire

I’ve tasted desire on the wet lips of Circe:

a pre-Raphaelite Circe — perfect

and cupped her small breast
in the palm of my hand (nipple
a nut, hard on the moistness
between the lines,
love’s and life)

firm cheeks and thighs slender,
well-muscled, arching her hips
toward me in darkness thick
with confusion. Oh, Circe,
fertile and eager, dark hair
softly selfwilled (in rings and curls,
black foam from cold oceans),
all sleek like an artist’s line,
moaning behind kisses

with deft fingers delicate and
a quickly sly tongue.

Circe makes love like the moon,
polished, passionate,
apocalyptic and pale

like distance flesh firmly denies,
desiring no more
than that animal body’s
womanhard subtle helical embraces.

after a particularly passionate community theater party — with no hope of Neanderthals in the third generation

22 September 1976

The poemʼs title is a pleasant pun. ‘Nuff said, okay?

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

Change and Relax

I fell in love with the sonnet for many years (while I was still writing poetry; I am afraid that is one aspect of composition that has not revived with retirement, at least not yet). The form was good for me, teaching me much more discipline than I had exercised in high school or college, forcing me to be frugal with my words, and letting me explore the auditory aspects of verse by utilizing rhyme. I canʼt recall these days what first drew my attention to sonneteering; perhaps it was the many sonnets the Romantics (my favorite poets as I went through college and for along time afterward; I was first led into poetry by encountering T.S. Eliot after preteen reading in a collected poetry book of my motherʼs, edited by Louis Untermeyer — all that history needs to be its own post someday). But it was a fortunate interest for my writing.

The two parallel sonnets below are among the first I ever bothered to preserve (and in looking them over to become a post on the blog, I wonder that I felt even that much admiration for them once). I do enjoy the contrast in the pairing, which I did intend all along, once the second poem got written. The first sonnet fits easily into the Directions to Myself to Change category (a name I just invented) of which I have plenty of extant poems. The second tries to follow that pattern but drifts into its own easier and more graceful reality.

The first is darker, thus the title, I guess — with a bleaker, nastier tone and attitude (and it is about change and the necessity for changing). It was originally composed by itself, but within a day the second one also got written, and itʼs a whole ʼnother story — thus its title, I suppose. Of the two, I like the second more just now (with spring breathing life into everything; Janet and I just bought five new bushes to plant around our yard — once the forecast frost for tonight is over). It also tries to resurrect a wonderful warmth and splendor I used to milk out of sunny summer afternoons (and which I felt in a more mature way in a previous poem) and which I still deeply enjoy recalling and sometimes even feeling in the present reality. I need to write on “catbasking post meridian sunrhyme” sometime…

The night-and-day contrast is actually pretty good.



Spit the poisons out behind you:

spew them back (bile, blood, acid, ooze)

into the botched and brutal maw,

the hideous night you cannot use,

dry with retching, burning, raw.

Ill-begotten, begin anew,

while stars drop moisture, angry dew

whipped by storms she never knew.

Let the wind blow cleanly through,

charging dust from your warm bones,

breathing blood from uncracked marrow,

sucking flesh from cement stones.

Let the rain reshape your brain, and go

in this strange winter without snow.

Day’s Turn

Nathan could be at home here…

Let the morning, let the afternoon

smear yellow magic through your fingertips

and fill that fleshy cavern, mouth. Tune

your toes to join the light that slips

as photon rivers in rectangular eyeless windows.

Stir with wet tongue the dust which time

settles evenly on eyes and face and lips;

and leap, a fish, where all light goes,

into warm pools of catbasking winter sunrhyme.

Let the light spill in your eyes, unsubstantial whips

which flog out former faded speculations (too soon

undone, too long remembered and reworked). Nose

and nostrils inhale winter warmth, and light

fills lungs, exhaled blind, kisses, fuses sight.

Ft. Madison

14 December 1975

Before launching into what I know I have to say below (I am adding this preface to the remainder after I have already written the rest), I want to note that I really enjoyed creating this post on Saturday afternoon — a brightly sunny one — while listening to Pink Floyd radio via iTunes, a perfect match to the second sonnet! Now back to the darkness…

Ironically, on Saturday, while I was downloading Richard Dawkinsʼs book The Greatest Show on Earth to iTunes, I also took the time to download a new program from SmithMicroQuickVerse, a not-very-liberated Bible program (you should see their choice of available Bible translations, defaulting of course to the very faulty, misleading and aged King James Version). Ironic, you wonder — how? Ironic in that Dawkins has become a notorious atheist (originally just for being a good scientist, latterly of course for his accepting the mantle and publishing The God Delusion, which I own but havenʼt read yet in two years), and I paired his newest book with the pretty traditional QuickVerse (thatʼs the obvious one). Ironic also in that I was about to work on this post, and the overall title presumes the actuality of evolution (as, of course, it should).

I sold a truck with this remaining on the back end yet — someone else bought that truck within 48 hours

Janet bought me my first Dawkins book for my birthday a while back. It was The Ancestorʼs Tale, and she was lured by the Chaucerian parallels, but I loved it, getting further into biology than I had for years, reminding me of one adorable summer in college when I took genetics and basic biology at the same time to fulfill my education requirements at the last minute, almost. I had heard about, looked at, but not purchased The Selfish Gene and some of the other books earlier, but I hadnʼt read Dawkins until this century.

In the mid-Nineties, Janet also bought me some Darwin Fish symbols for my truck (and computers). Mac Addict, sometime about 1996 included the Darwin Fish among items that were passé — the battle had been won. I wish. Then came Creationism (or should I say, Desperately Fearful Wishing-ism) and its bastard child (un)Intelligent Design. And then came Shrub…  Now I just wish that all the old stick-in-the-muds could grow up and live in the real world instead of inanely pretending falsities that lead to, well, Foxi-nonsense. As the London buses advertised for a while (thanks to Dawkins and some others): “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying and Enjoy your Life.”

—Apologies again, all over the place, but nonsensical pronouncements from the dimwit Right in the news lately have fired me up again. Maybe I should take my own title (of this post) to heart…

My more conservatively religious friends may beware that QuickVerse should simplify my use of bible quotes to quickly debunk foolish religious views (like those who believe God wants us to be wealthy: Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” [Matthew 19:24. Similar verses are in Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25] — clearly the Theology of Wealth is nonsense in at least the Saviorʼs eyes).

I guess the commentary reverses the tones of the two poems…

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

Decisions and Choices

Here is a little poem I donʼt even remember writing. I found it scrawled in pencil on the backside of a different typed poem, so (I think) I took the date below from the formal one on the primary side, which means it may have been written later, even significantly later than the date indicated. Even so, the idea expressed sounds like what I was considering when still a first- or second-year teacher in Ft. Madison. I select it now primarily as a stopgap to ensure a post for today, as my Census training continues to keep my busy. I am also making choices these days, too, however, so in that sense this poem seems appropriate as well. The verse was untitled in pencil where I found it, but Iʼll call it…

Decide Already!

an appropriate image — click for another bloggerʼs take on choices

Choose: left or right or up or down.

Decisions fork our lives apart, and all

that might have been is lost: it might

have been, and, selecting, was not chosen.

Pick: the roads diverge, and you are not

Colossus to bestride them both at once

(fence straddling castrates), and so

you must leave all that unknown and lost.

Never ask what might have been,

for then you wonder, and wondering imagine

(taste, touch, smell, see and hear) and, foolish,

lost it all again; foolish lose it all.

in pencil on “Look Here” typescript

1975 / early 1976?

Not much here, really: choices are hard to make, and as Robert Frost had already indicated much more profoundly (in “The Road Not Taken,” on which I have a very strange but prize-winning not-exactly-an-essay of analysis and interpretation which should appear here one of these days soon), it can hurt to choose, especially if you keep wondering about your lost alternative(s) rather than enjoying the reality you have created by your decision. This isnʼt the only poem I ever wrote advising my (imaginary?) self to decide and stick with a choice. So am I realizing something about myself? (And if so, just what?)

I own de Campʼs novel in the hardcover edition, lacking this cover art

I like the unremarkable small classical allusion to Rhodes (how coincidentally appropriate with last weekʼs movie reviews and literary criticism — still unfinished in my mind). I am pleased with my younger self that I didnʼt let the reference overwhelm the poem, but I do believe that the image of the Colossus of Rhodes bestriding the harbor in ancient time does inform the poemʼs otherwise pretty simplistic concept. Humans are not divine, we have got to take what we chose and live with it. (Perhaps one quality of divinity is an ability to live in multiple realities… Hmmm, a story idea there?)

On a truly literary note, one of my favorite writers, L. Sprague de Camp, whom I have mentioned before, wrote a very fine historical novel on the construction of the Colossus, The Bronze God of Rhodes, very well informed by de Campʼs historical research and knowledge of engineering. I spent these first years of this century/millennium acquiring all those old historicals by de Camp — having enjoyed The Dragon of the Ishtar Gate since it was reprinted in paperback by Lancer Books (a fine, cheap house from which I received lots of early science fiction and fantasy — especially fantasy — reading experiences, including my introduction to Robert E. Howard [and de Camp] and Conan and the books emphasized in the Wikipedia article, if you click the Lancer Books link). Those Frank Frazetta covers lured me into making choices that have shaped my imagination if not my life. By the way, I continue with my own sword-and-sorcery story (-ies) set in medieval Moorish Spain — Sepharad.

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

Lovers and Friends

As I promised you on Saturday, I have a bit of autobiographical revelation to share, inspired by and inspiring chapter 4 from The Book of Seasons. I hope I don’t embarrass anybody, including myself, with this.

I feel that like my brother David on his website I should attach appropriate music for this post because writing it made me think of The Beatles’ “In My Life,” (I also like this link) appropriately, although the order is reversed. I discuss a lover first and then my best friend after.

or two new characters from real life

Although she never suffered such a problem as a water balloon prank in bed, a girlfriend who was attending Coe College did return me to the Hotel Allison roughly two years after my student teaching experience. I haven’t shared any information about this relationship really, but it was her who inspired the girlfriend character here in The Book of Seasons and also the split. We had started dating the summer after my first year of teaching (she’s the girl of the bicentennial summer romance I have mentioned earlier), and once she started to college in the fall, I went to visit her in Cedar Rapids as often as I could the following year. (Sadly, I even took sick days to drive up to see her during the week, especially in the spring of ‘77, one time driving north out of Ft. Madison as my principal, whom I had just called an hour or so earlier, was driving into school southwards. Fortunately, over my three-and-a-half decades in education, I abused the sick days almost not at all.) The Allison, although I am sure she thought I was deranged to stay there, provided me with a place to stay on our weekend visits (except for one weekend when my father asked me to drive his massive motorhome to Cedar Rapids for reasons I do not currently remember, but I do remember driving the huge thing all over the city Friday night and Saturday and Saturday night, discovering all kinds of streets and ways about town).

I was staff-reduced from my position in the Ft. Madison school district in March or April of 1977. Although I tried to fight the dismissal with the school board, I found myself on unemployment (a sad revenge on the district, but one I was too foolishly noble—or simple—to maintain for the entire summer; I quit taking unemployment once I found the position in Andrew) and looking for a new job. At this remove, I am pretty sure I chose to take the job in Andrew partly because of its proximity to Cedar Rapids and Coe College. Unfortunately for me, we only shared a few weekends together in the fall of ‘77. On my birthday in November that year we talked on the telephone and she broke up with me—Happy Birthday, indeed! (I have some poems arising from that incident; I am not sure if they’re worth posting.) So you can see that breakup behind the narrator’s unhappiness in the story.

I think what got the girlfriend character into the story at all, however, was the fact that she and I got back together at her instigation later —in November 1979, which is probably when I started work on chapter 4. By then she had switched schools to somewhere in Indiana, and I continued my habit of visiting at least a couple of times on weekends. Unfortunately, I can also remember fixing a pump pot of an early version of a Snowy Evening to drink in my blue van while I drove. On one visit in the winter, Interstate 74, once I crossed from Illinois into Indiana, was pretty icy. My blue Ford van rode high and light, and at one point about midnight or 1:00 AM, I hit a patch of black ice and went spinning end for end down my two lanes of the freeway. I don’t really know how, but I ended up not in the ditch and not overturned but facing the right way and drove on. She came with me to the faculty Christmas party in ‘79 (I can remember a long drive down Highway 61 to Ft. Madison and back), but I think we had broken up again well before summer in 1980.

If you clicked the link on mentioning a summer romance above, the poem I accidentally posted a long time ago has her in mind as the addressed audience. I guess I can now post some of the other verse from her era(s) in my life, as I have with the longtime girlfriend from my college years.

It’s nice to have treasured memories…

now a source for a trickster

I should probably also acknowledge that the character of Wakdjunkaga, as I imagined him thirty years ago and more, owes less to the me that I have become than it does to some of the characteristics and anecdotes of my lifelong friend, Kevin Wiley, whom I realize I have strangely not mentioned in the blog until now. We met during my sophomore year in high school, once my family had moved from Olivet, Michigan, to Mt. Pleasant. Our drama director, Mrs. Marilyn Vincent, invited me—timid, shy and awkward youth that I was—to run the sound for the winter high school theater production, The Miracle Worker, and Kevin, inheriting the job from his older brothers, was running the lights. It was the start of both our lives in theater and also how we met. Later on, Kevin spent two years at Iowa Wesleyan before moving on to the University of Iowa. We had both majored in theater, but he took it seriously, striving for a Masters in Design, and worked for twenty years in regional theater (boy, did I envy him that career).

It really isn’t fair to Kevin to pair him in a post with a lady who really only endured in my life for a year or two, but I guess that’s the difference between lovers and friends (besides gender in this case and probably just about everything). In writing, I just realized we have been friends for forty years. Astonishing (that the past has crept so far back into the past without my notice; I wonder, however, briefly, how few are interested in my reacquisitions of material and memories from the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties). Enough of that… for now.

In high school, Kevin didn’t live all that far from my house at 307 E. Green St. (and when he and his wife Dawn moved back to Mt. P in the Nineties, he wound up buying his parents’ home on Warren St.), so we got to know each other walking home from rehearsals. “Haven’t seen ya at the prayer meetin’ lately,” was an early shared joke referring to his Presbyterian minister (who interestingly became my minister when I followed the college-era girlfriend to her church, and who became influential on my thinking and values—as he did on most of the youth in Mt Pleasant in my high school and college years).

Kevin, especially once he journeyed on to the U of I, developed a wild side that colors Wakdjunkaga’s personality. I did have him in mind as I tried to think of what to write about that character, although they really are nothing alike—even today. And several stories of his adventures with his dorm friends in Iowa City hide behind anecdotes about Wak. Our freewheeling discussions over the decades have ranged as widely and far as humanly conceivable, I believe, although possibly the stress and necessity of real-life mundanity have taken a greater hold in the last fifteen years than either of us would actually like (we each probably talk about work and health/medications too much of late—at least I do).

Janet and I are going to be seeing him and his wife this weekend, so it seems appropriate to talk about him today. He and Dawn deserve far more space than this, and maybe someday I’ll grant it to each of them (if it’s not too embarrassing to get mentioned by name here, as I have avoided doing for most people except Janet).

So there’s the autobiographical revelations, actually more about others than about me. But then it’s the others in our life who make us who we are.

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