Highways and by ways.

My woman friend is younger than I.

I don’t mean this in a boastful way, she simply is.  Hey, I don’t get it either. Aging boggles my mind, makes my head hurt and I try not to think about things like that.  Perhaps I interest her as preview of what’s to come. Or perhaps she just enjoys my presence. People are strange in their ways and some things you just take on faith. Whatever gets you through the night. It is what it is. And I do not know why. Sidestepping all that – we take rides together.  Get in the car and just drive somewhere we’ve never been, it could be near or far, and we talk about the oddest things. Today we are going to a pancake house.

I maneuver the car while she talks…”So I am reading Barryman, The Dream Songs, and I still can’t get this Mr. Bones, dude.”

Why can’t she mull on the weather like everyone else. I’ve been reading, The Dream Songs on and off since I was an adolescent and I still don’t get it. It is because I do not have the nova like brilliance of a Barryman, the same scenario with Robert Lowell. Both of them troubled giants — it is almost a bad cliché. No that degrades them, they were simply tremendously gifted people whose wisdom did not save them from human frailty. I suddenly realize I am older than Barryman was when he leaped to his death.

“Granted he is an old, white man but he is gifted, right up there with Emily Bishop.” She says. “They are a few of the headliners’ of the Confessional Movement along with Robbie Lowell.”

“Robbie.” I say. I realize she is younger than me, but still these where some of the gods of my youth. Robbie my ass, its Robert Lowell writ large and strange. Still, better to keep it to myself.

“Yea Robbie,” she says. “You read Barryman; don’t you find The Dream Songs difficult?”

“I believe they are impossible to be completely understood. Barryman wrote in his 366th Dream Song, “These songs are not to be understood, you understand. / They are only meant to terrify & comfort.” I find they do that quite well.”

“And too think I am the English professor,” she says. Sweet Jesus, what did I say? I hope she doesn’t lecture. Think, think, think. She’s an academically aggressive feminist, youthful — calm the waters.

“Yes you are, look how much you have taught me.” I say.

“That’s not going to work, pal.” She says. “Let me phrase it another way. Doesn’t it bother you that you can’t get a better grasp on it.”

“No, “I say. It’s not to be understood, but felt.”

“I will reexamine and let you known,” she says. “But this is not the end of it.”

“Pretty nice day, don’t you think?” I ask. Trying to steer us away from anything academic, she does not debate she argues. “Hope the pancakes are good.”

“Smooth, that’s what I like about you old guys. Still, we are going to revisit this.”

“Bumpy roads are us,” I say, as I set off for somewhere else – smoother terrain.

Our conversation is beginning to sound like bad dialog. Do other people still talk about poets, or have times become so empty they are forgotten, or worse become novelties. There was a time when Poets were the rock stars of their time — what the fuck happened. And why the hell do I care.



Return to the unemployment office



I have returned to the unemployment office and am sitting in front of the same odd young man I had before. He is smiling.

“So how are you doing?” he says exuding sincerity. His eyeglasses glint and his hair gleams. His suit seems to fit him better than the last time.

“I am still looking for a job.” I state.

“You still troubled by that. I thought we got this settled last time you were in. There are no decent jobs for dudes your age. I said you should stay busy, wait for the work situation to improve.”

“And until then, how do I pay my bills”

“The state has a tit, suck baby, suck.” He says in a tired voice. He is no longer smiling.

“Suck baby, suck.” I repeat. It is hard to get a handle on the surreal audio coming from this man in an oversized suit. Strangely, I feel some empathy for him.

“Sorry bad day, need coffee. You know this ain’t no dream job. I gotta go with the gut, and things are bad all-round. Job’s made for burn out.” He says this earnestly. Then he takes off his glasses and polishes them with a handkerchief and replaces them on his nose. “All right then, why don’t we start over, from the top; so you been keeping busy as I suggested last time.”

“What’s the matter, not thinking positively?” I say trying to lighten things in a sarcastic way. If nothing else he’s honest. “Did play around with your writting idea – mostly out of boredom.”

“See the important thing is to stay busy, chill out. Things have a way of working out.” He says, back in the upbeat councilor groove again. “I’m assuming you took my advice and are writing about yourself. Good for you, lot of weird stuff in your resume. All I got to say is, show don’t tell.”

“Want to read it?”

“No I don’t like to read.”

“What.” The man is a walking contradiction. Maybe it’s my age but it is impossible to get a logical read on him.

“Trust me, show don’t tell.”

“What” I say, feeling we are no longer on the same journey.

“Try something pastoral.” He looks into the distance as if envisioning some country idyll — some baroque tableau of naked nymphs frolicking with horse hung satyrs. Again Henry Miller is brought to mind. “Pastorals are nice.”

“Yes they are.” I say.

We are on separate pages. Maybe it was a mistake to come back, man’s got nothing for me. Nothing for anyone my age – my age, I feel my time has passed. It is a shock to the system; I am no longer relevant to the new social order. At the most I am on the fringe. When did all this come to pass? My memory mumbles here. I have no idea how I tumbled from then to now. All I have are stories of the in betweens. We all have stories. It is how we get through the day. Whether we do it well or poorly depends on the stories. Right now my stories seem impotent. A little magical thinking is needed. My thoughts are interrupted by the strange young man.

“Only a small number of dudes read anymore.” He says, earnestly segueing into strangeness. “But reading literature is not really the same as reading…it’s more radical”

Wow. Radical. Reading can still be a dangerous thing.






The Marker. There is a marker, of seeming importance, mounted on a granite boulder. The glacial stone is in the center of a large, greeny field. The field is worked for hay. A breeze carrying the wet heat of summer ripples the tall stalks. The field is bounded on two sides by breaks of sap maple. In the back the land rolls up and meets the sky. Blue green blending to a light blue, floating heavy clouds. The marker is a bronze rectangle, with raised letters, mounted at eye level. The bailers rakes around the boulder missing little. The laborers are too young to remember. They think of beer and pussy. The old farmer recalls but does not give it much thought. The farmer was born in town — suburbia has sprung up around him. He ignores it the same way he ignores the marker. After the old man dies the land will sprout poorly built, costly houses. It gives him reason to live. Hot work, they stop to take a break in midafternoon. The old man doles out a beer to each boy. On dog days there are two. It makes the farm wage seem worth it. It is something done across time, a rite of passage. Boys will do about anything to rush manhood and they can take the work. In their minds’ they get paid to take off their shirts and drink beer. The farmer sees a small profit and he gets to keep the land. They rest their backs against the boulder for shade. “What the fuck is that?” one of the boys asks, jerking his hand toward the boulder. “You’re too young to enjoy bad language.” The farmer shakes his head, the boy does not know the wealth of time he likely has. ”Ya, sorry,” says the boy. “Glacier left it.” “No, the marker.” “Bout something.” “Your land, you ought to know,” teasingly, the boy likes the farmer. “My boulder too.” The farmer seems to leave it at that, and then adds “Artist did it, Finish your beers, got work to do.” I was the artist. I also screwed one of the farmer’s daughters in the shadow of that boulder. The farmer does not know this. She was a lanky, firm titted country girl. Bright eyed and eager, the girl was lively in the hay under a full moon. A backlit werewolf flapping over me with great purpose. A whole lot of need, making the marker was a small thing compared to it. I think I did better with the girl, it was more pressing. Your needs are simpler when you are young, art gets you hot. At the time I toyed with the idea of recording the moment. Something akin to “Daniel Boone killed a bear on this here tree.” But granite is difficult to mark and I did not have the craft. This was fortunate, it would embarrass me now. The memory has become one of my myths. I wish the farmer’daughter well but do not want to know her life beyond that moment. The farmer’s stone still juts up straight from the field. It has not moved yet everything has changed. The marker was the result of luck and tenacity. My tenacity and the luck of the farmer agreeing. I could have hounded him for years without bending him. It only took two. There was no rational reason for him to agree. I believe he liked his rock and wanted marked as special. “Don’t make it look foolish” he stated. “I won’t.” “Don’t hurt it. No paint.” “Just a small bronze plaque. Four small holes to mount it.” “What’s it going to say?” “Glacial Boulder.” “No harm in the truth,” said the farmer. It was a questionable statement. I saw it all in a Duchampian way. Flip Duchamp’s conceits one hundred and eighty degrees and they can still be Duchampian. Clever boy, or so the farmer’s daughter thought. The farmer never said what he thought but he has allowed the plaque to remain part of his world. Making art is an affliction. It is like being a junkie, you just got to have it. I have spent a great deal of time trying to avoid it. The art world is a nasty place, full of art junkies looking for the special fix. That is ironic and the need seems to carry across time. Perhaps it is the need to leave a mark – art not irony. The glacier left a mark, I catalogued it, and the farmer possessed it – a connoisseur. Technically he presently owns the rock, and the plaque, I was simply an enabler. On the other hand the work is not going to hawked at a yard sale. It is of absolutely no use to anyone, except the couples who gouge their initials into the bronze plaque — many initials inside hearts. As I noted the boulder still juts straight up.


Some people say to expect nothing and you will not be disappointed. I think you should expect much even if there is a chance of being greatly disappointed. There are no guarantees in life, being realistically positive beats being hopelessly negative.