In Hot Water

Yesterday was full of events — most annoying? Water heater went out and wouldn’t light. I called my favorite plumber — and got the owner. “Two weeks, that’s how things are going around here now.”

“Well, maybe if you have a guy up here in Monte Vista he could just stop by?”

“I’ll put you on the list. Have we done work for you before?

“Yes! You guys do the best work. You’ve done stuff for me a few times and it’s always been great.”

“That’s wonderful to hear. I’m afraid that doesn’t change the list, but if someone’s out there, I’ll tell them to stop by.”

“Thank you so much.”

Four hours later he appeared himself and fixed the problem — which was dust and who’s surprised? 8 years of dust, 30 inches away from the dryer vent, seriously? He had the same vocal inflections as my grandmother which was wonderful to hear. Turned out his people came from Missouri a couple generations ago. They are farmers; he has animals — lots of them, so I heard a lot of stories about them — and of course we talked dogs and mountains. It was a great conversation, and it reminded me why I was so happy to get back here when I retired. “I hunt, but you know, it’s just an excuse to get back there.” He nodded toward the San Juans. He and his brother hunt on horseback. “Lot’s of people don’t like hunting, but we live on what we kill.” I’m not one of those people who object to hunting. I can’t. I’d rather eat elk or venison than beef any day. I’d be a hypocrite to object, as much as I love to watch those animals and feel blessed when I see them. I’ve even wondered if that love isn’t a deeply engrained human thing from millennia of hunting for survival. It’s like a lot of things in life. There’s no pure black and white. Deer and elk overpopulation means nature steps in with disease to cull the herds.

I learned that my water heater has a dust filter. He pulled it out then went out to his truck to get his air compressor. The filter is a narrow band, just a flexible plastic net. He blew out the dust — covering both of us — and said, “You ddin’t have to stay here for this.”

“I felt guilty just leaving you here alone for that.”

“Well, at least now you can take a hot shower.” I enjoy that kind of humor. The tones of home are always welcome, I guess.

This is going to be an expensive month. So, I have a couple of gigs lined up, one is an article the other is a fence.

I’m heading to the museum later to talk about the poetry reading coming up a week from Friday. After all the adventures yesterday I sat down and wrote out a talk. I’ve been to a few poetry readings, but, strangely, I can’t clearly remember any but Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti back at D. G. Wills Bookstore in La Jolla in another lifetime. I’m sure as hell not either of those guys. The other readings all fade into an image of a second story room in a half-empty downtown Boulder, Colorado, walk-up, the first poetry reading I ever attended. Folding chairs — maybe 30 — were arranged in optimistic rows. A lectern sat in front. A few students from the University of Colorado were going to read. I knew one of them? I don’t remember. From the ceiling hung two bare lightbulbs. The room was a dingy yellowish beige and the four windows that faced the street had pull-down shades. The poets fumbled embarrassedly through their poems, reading with serious, earnest voices, and then sitting down.

I don’t think it was like that for Homer when he recited the Odyssey. If anyone would like to read my talk, I’ll post it later. Let me know. I practiced last night and learned one thing which was not to choose poems with too many sssssssibilantsssss.

After all that, the dogs and I headed out to the refuge. For summer it was perfect. NO PEOPLE. Enough wind to keep the bugs off, perfect early evening light.

“I can’t believe you brought us, Martha!”
“Me either guys, but YAY!!!!”

The featured photo is me and a friend sitting outside D. G. Wills Bookstore in La Jolla in 1994. Allen Ginsberg is inside reading and so many people had shown up that they had to set up outside for the overflow. There was a loudspeaker. Extra points for anyone who can find me in the crowd. That would be quite an achievement!

A Candid, Backward Look at Mid-Century American Poetry

Lacking the candor of dogs, I kiss the departing air,” wrote Theodore Roethke in “Praise to the End.’

What does that mean? That he is too inhibited to piss on the hydrant as he passes by? I have never known… Just now I tried to find a way to link the poem to this blog, and all I found were academic papers about the poem. Not the poem. That’s kind of how I thought things might go here in the future.

When I was in high school, Theodore Roethke was regarded as an Important Contemporary American Poet. I don’t know if his work is even taught any more. I know that I believed Miss Cohen and I bought a thin volume and read it back to front. Some of the poems I wrote in those days emulate Roethke and Ferlinghetti. I thought I might grow up to be a poet.

Roethke was not one of the “beat poets” yet rhythm was important to him. When we read his poems aloud, my teacher made a big deal out of this. “Hear it? Hear the 3/4 beat behind his words?” She was reading “My Papa’s Waltz” which is a poem about Roethke getting slapped around by his alcoholic father.

Anyway, since we read Roethke at the same time we were reading “the beats,” they are conflated in my mind — and they are poets of a generation. Of the beats, we mostly read Ferlinghetti. Our teacher mentioned Ginsberg’s Howl, but she made it  clear that it was a questionable piece of literature and had been censored by the Supreme Court. Or something. Not that she objected to that. I got to know her well as a friend, and I’m sure, now, she was following the orders of the Board of Education in not teaching it. Not that Howl makes any sense. It doesn’t. What does is “Supermarket in California” and, especially, “America.”

But time rubs the edges off of horror (as we see daily in the news, that shithole) and by the time I was in my thirties, Howl was required reading in many college and university Intro to American Lit classes. Here’s a photo of West Point cadets reading that unspeakable work.


Oddly, one day in San Francisco some 40 years after I left high school, I found myself in Ferlinghetti’s old neighborhood, not far from the Haight, my friend and I, hours away from a toilet and in desperate need of a good pee, availed ourselves of a dark corner in a parking structure before we headed down to find Chinese food in North Beach. We, too, lacked the candor of dogs, but in every sense that was a memorable urination and a really good poem.

Still, lines of their poetry linger in my memory. Of Roethke, from his poem, “In a Dark Time,” “What’s madness but nobility of soul At odds with circumstance?”

I will think of this line from Ferlinghetti, In Golden Gate Park that day, a man and his wife were coming along, thru the enormous meadow that was the meadow of the world.”

I’ve been to Golden Gate park and Ferlinghetti exaggerates, but I get the idea, and sometimes, when I’m walking through a field, even at my slough I think of that line. I refuse to be a party to the ultimate nihilism of Ferlinghetti’s poem. It’s cheap, facile, juvenile and useless here in the “meadow of the world.”