Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sheila Murphy—Untitled Visual Poetry


Sheila E. Murphy's visual and textual poetry will appear in AlteredScale.com 2. See her work in AlteredScale.com 1.

Sheila E. Murphy's book American Ghazals will appear this year from Otoliths Press (Qld, Australia). In addition, Continuations 2, the second volume of Murphy's collaborative poem sequence with Douglas Barbour, is due this spring from the University of Alberta Press. The Press bought out the first volume of this work in 2006. Murphy lives in Phoenix, Arizona, where she actively consults, researches, teaches, writes, and draws. She was reared in a home filled with music, and her first training was on flute performance.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Wang Ping's Kinship of Rivers at the Soap Factory

by Jefferson Hansen

Today I spent eight hours at the Soap Factory gallery in Minneapolis participating in and being witness to an extraordinary multi-disciplinary and multi-focused examination of consciousness, childhood, spirituality, and our relationship to the earth.

It was organized by poet, fiction writer, essayist, photographer Wang Ping. (Since in Chinese, "first" and "last" names are reversed from English, I will refer to Wang Ping using her so-called "last" name, as I would with any artist I discuss on this blog.) First, Wang's writing.

For me, what runs through most of Wang's work is a tremendous faith and fidelity to her subject matter. From her fiction that details the horrors of Maoism to photographs documenting the impact of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and its people and beyond, I sense so often at the center of  a listening. She seems to open herself to whatever is there, no matter how horrible.

She does this with her own brand of what I'll call objectivity. It's not, of course, the objectivity of science, where a methodical way of thinking overwhelms the object. Rather, it's formed by what I sense as an almost boundless affection and care, a quietness that allows what is to emerge, come forth, shaped by her art.

Put simply, her objective method seems to emerge from a specific attentiveness opened by care.

Now, that's hardly all that is going on. But, for me, it seems to characterize most of my favorite work of hers.

Best comparison? Easy. Poet Lorine Niedecker.

For the past several years, Wang has been working on, among other things, the Kinship of Rivers. It has a Facebook page, a website, and involves plenty of traveling for Wang:

"Kinship of Rivers is a five-year interdisciplinary project to build kinship among communities along the Mississippi and Yangtze, and bring much awareness to the river’s ecosystem through art, literature, music, food, and installations of river-flags made by river communities. Since its creation in spring, 2011, our facebook group has gathered over 1820 poets, writers, artists, and activists to share poetry, art and news about rivers on the daily basis. Our www.kinshipofrivers.org website has published thousands of poems, stories, music, art, videos and photographs. Making River Flags — a medium inspired by Tibetan prayer flags— is a key element for the mission. Wang Ping and other artists have visited hundreds of schools and river communities to share poetry, make river flags, and install them along the rivers."

Today at the Soap Factory was a KOR celebration. It was a little like a Midwestern "Open House," where people could drop in at any time and stay as long as they liked, although things got packed toward the end, when the Ten Thousand Waves Ensemble performed and the mandala was blessed.

When I arrived about one o'clock, I walked around and noticed a Tibetan monk, Lama Yeshi, making a sand mandala.

"The general meaning of the word mandala is 'circle'. But it is much more than just a circle, it is the basis from which all spiritual mandalas are created. It is a wheel within a wheel representing wholeness and the infinity of our universe" (Wang Ping).

He used various colors of sand, and applied them using a curious tool, a metal tube with a rough, file-like outside. He rubbed another piece of metal against the ribs to cause the sand to fall evenly. I was amazed at how long he remained stooped over his work. I later learned from Wang that he had been working on the mandala for days.

Next, I encountered Lisa Steinman, who has been central to the project from its inception. She asked me if I would like to make a flag (see above). I, of course, agreed, and improvised a poem about the heat of the day—written in the spirit of a type of Japanese poetic calligraphy where the poem must be written quickly and fluidly on thin parchment or the paper breaks. Now, I printed it using a marker on fabric, but I made sure it came quickly and fluidly and was written in the spirit of the day. Lisa helped me stamp the fabric using red, Chinese ink.

I don't want to remember what it says, exactly: I want it to be my gift to wherever Wang takes it. Let go! (If, on the very off chance, someone ever gets around to wanting to publish a collected poems by me, they will have to travel the world hunting that one down. Wink.)

Next, some dumplings. Apparently, they were Wang Ping's own recipe—pork, beef, garlic, and other stuff. I liked that the vegetables were not cooked until they were watery. I brought the chefs a jug of water and some cups because did they look hot.

The tea ceremony was beyond charming. Peiju Liu Picard, proprietor of High Mountain Tea in Lauderdale, Minnesota, served individuals or groups in the chairs in front of her table as we wandered over. She told the story of how she was in finance until, one day, she could do it no longer and lost her memory. It was then, after a series of events, that she became a tea importer and a developer of what she teasingly called the Taiwanese-Minnesota tea ceremony.

The tea smelled beyond heavenly, and she poured it into very small cups. She taught us how to hold them (I could barely do it given my large hands.) and how to bless. Since she had shared some personal details, I told her I would be writing on the event. She said I could write anything down that she said.

On to some music. Carleton Macy played Chinese music, and then some original compositions, on, of all things, a wooden Renaissance recorder. He sat behind wind chimes which had a fan blowing on them, creating a random accompaniment. I listened carefully to his full tone and rhythmic sophistication. He also hit a gong a few times, which I then walked over to study. He asked me to accompany him. I did my best to improvise fills. It was the best time I had all day. After his recital, he and I briefly discussed Jon Yang, a jazz pianist.

One of the two highlights was a performance of Wang Ping and composer Bruce Bolon's "Ten Thousand Waves" by the Ten Thousand Waves Ensemble. (Bolon is a Hamline University physics professor who writes music in his spare time.) The somber, dirge-like piece concerns the tragedy on February 5, 2004 in Morecambe Bay, England, when 21 Chinese immigrants were drowned by an incoming tide off the Lancashire while picking cockles.

The ensemble consisted of string instruments and an oboe, and there were about six or seven singers. The feeling was Western classical, although a Chinese zither, the guzheng, was used at the beginning of the performance:

     The Lichee tree I planted is blossoming
     White flowers hide under dark green
     The first moon comes and goes
     But I haven't returned as promised

These are the heartbreaking thoughts of an immigrant who has left home far behind only to work countless hours in the dark, in the wet, only to drown far from home in the cold salt water. I shivered just listening to Bolon's dirge behind these words.


Finally, the mandala ceremony. Lama Yeshi chanted over the mandala and hit various gongs and triangles. I didn't watch; I meditated. Afterwards, he did not hesitate to brush the beautiful sand, which he had painstakingly arranged, into a heap at the middle of the table. He placed it in a jar, put a piece of fabric over it, and we walked to the Mississippi with a Chinese lion.

He said a prayer and dumped the sand down, down to the Mississippi. Can a prayer actually affect the sand which affects the toxins and poisons which heals the river? Not according to science. But according to human conscious attention it does.

And here we come full circle, to the writing of Wang Ping, to her special attention. What matters, whether or not the sand has become magic, is that the attention and care poured into the making of the mandala focuses Lama Yeshi, his prayer focuses us, and the metaphor of all that care and attention going into the river can only make us more aware of the river, the earth, the beings—magic or no magic.

Thank you, everyone for a fun and refreshing and enlightening day. See this link for photos and posts. Be sure to scroll down. Everything on the page does not pertain to today's events.


See poetry and multimedia work by Wang Ping in AlteredScale.com 1.

Friday, July 27, 2012

lilacs gone? okay

by Jefferson Hansen

in late july the lilacs
have lost their
pinks and whites

but the bushes remain
green &
what is that fragrance
wafting in?

something tells me
it's not just memory

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Monochrome Rainbows by Julianne Davis

(Please allow about 30 seconds for buffering. Click box in lower right for full-screen view.)

from Julianne Davis : I am a self taught artist from the United Kingdom, I like to write poetry, draw, and I sometimes make short films.

Link for my website Outmastirie http://juliannej6.wix.com/outmastiriesunny1.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jason Lee Norman at Common Good Books 7-22-12

Americas by Jason Lee Norman at Amazon

Ann Bogle Reading at Common Good Books 7-22-12

Larissa Shmailo's IN PARAN (BlazeVox)

a review by Jefferson Hansen

“      you see very few men have souls     and very few men have courage    the few who have the courage to follow their souls are mostly all dead     lost in leaves     people kill them you know”
                                                                                                —from “Madwoman”

What characterizes this volume of poetry, published in 2009, for me is the astonishing variety of poetics on display. Shmailo proves herself adept at wild internal rhymes, traditional metrics, prose poems, and found poems. The book is divided into three sections: Love Poems, LitCrit, and In the World. I will discuss one poem from each.

The book begins with a glorious love poem, “Personal.”

I want to know
what makes you

I want to know
what makes you
fickle; I want to know
what makes you stick.

forget the right answers
consult necromancers
allow the forbidden
ignore the guilt ridden
unlearn all the learning
embrace this new burning

The celebration of erotic love is ensconced in the playful internal and standard rhymes. Love becomes childlike, wonderful, as fun as hearing an unexpected confluence of sound in two words. So often, romantic love is obsessive and demanding. This is pitched at the mystery of the beloved, and she transforms the mystery into linguistic play at the aural level. This poem is as much music as poetry.

The second section, LitCrit, begins with “In Paran,” which itself begins by quoting Melville: “Call me Ishmael.” She uses iambs, very long lines, and a self-consciously archaic diction to, again, celebrate, this time the speaker’s wildness:

I grew up wild and stubborn: my hand against my father
At war with all my kinfolk; my kin at war with me.

Hear the iambs and alliteration propel this declaration of independence, of will, of stubbornness, and of the will to see demons and thrive. I can’t help but think the speaker is female, in spite of her calling herself Ishmael. Yes, this is a poem in the voice of Ishmael. But it celebrates being as wild as a man (is allowed).

The most interesting poetic move, for me, occurs in "Chimera." The whole poem is below:

The use of bold and italics creates two poems within a larger poem, and the way the lines shorten as the poem unfolds feels like the last word: “cut.” This poem makes me feel the pain of illusion and disillusion, the way we never know if we know. We could be at the cinema when we are just walking down the street: Chimera.

In the “In the World” section Shmaillo addresses politics and pain, from the Holocaust to My Lai to homelessness. The latter is addressed in a loosely held-together poem, a form that echoes the very state of homelessness, called “No-Net World.” It is straight-ahead, almost journalistic.

“Now your debts mount up like garbage and a layoff’s coming soon.”

This line is typical. By the end of the poem, the accumulated weight of a life on the edge is witnessed and given voice.

I recommend this book to anyone who loves to see a poet take chances, go with anything and use everything from all of poetics, who writes as she, apparently, feels she must and not according to any “shoulds.”


Larissa Shmailo will appear in Altered Scale 2. See her audio and textual work in Altered Scale 1.

Larissa Shmailo's work has appeared in Gargoyle, Barrow Street, Drunken Boat, Fulcrum,The Unbearables Big Book of Sex, and the Penguin anthologyWords for the Wedding. Her books of poetry are In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), A Cure for Suicide (Cervena Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World  and Exorcism, available through iTunes and other digital distributors. Her translation of A. Kruchenych'sVictory over the Sun is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press and is currently featured on the Brooklyn Rail InTranslation Web site.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Confirmed for Altered Scale 2

This blog is associated with the multimedia Internet arts journal AlteredScale.com.

Altered Scale 2 will be out in September and highlight the work of Maria Damon as featured artist.

The following are confirmed:
Rock & roll and folk-rock from The Magnolias, Chris Funkhouser, & Julia Douglass.

Interview with Rebecca Weaver on The Loft Literary Center. (More interviews on Twin Cities Literary Community are scheduled to be taped.)

Interview with jazz artist Zacc Harris on his album "The Garden."

Poetry from Carl Dennis, Pulitzer Prizewinner, John Bennett, Buck Downs, Mark DuCharme, Karen Garthe, Geoffrey Gatza, Anne Gorrick, Mark Heuring, Larry Gilmore, Crag Hill, Mary Hilton, Bruce Holsapple, Hunter James, Gail Lukasik, Laura McCullough, Sheila Murphy, Jane Joritz-Nakagawa, Richard Raver, Kathleen Rooney & Elisa Gabbert, Spencer Selby, Larissa Schmailo, Marc Vincenz. (Some have yet to come in.)

Visual poetry from Volodymyr Bilyk, Sarah Edwards, Nick Piombino, Michael Basinski, Chandler Lewis, Peter Ganick, Michael Jacobson, Sheila Murphy, Spencer Selby, Tony Rickaby, Nico Vassilikis.

Videos from Volodymyr Blyk, Donna Kuhn, Oscar Sparrow, and Vernon Frazer.

Fiction from Robert Calabrese, Kennedy Gisege, Daniel Gutstein, Rich Ives, Ted Pelton, Stephen-Paul Martin, Mark Wallace, John Colburn. (More yet to come.)

Photography from noted fiction writer Melanie Rae Thon & Andrea Canter.

Music criticism from Steven Sharp & Andrea Canter.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

timely inordination by Jefferson Hansen

timely inordination

                               for larry

didn’t die in the demanding drivel
and you wanted a wanton story
to whistle and wiffle its way across
commons and countries and it did

and didn’t matter beyond mortgages
and meridians and measures gone a little
haywire because stories morph and miss
so often like the one about the chicken crossing…

why wet the whistle when a few good crumbs
will do, why tell the stumped story and
stupendous lies when we live amid the ludicrous
gone simpering and sadly awry

            a reckoning awaits any contrary counter
            a reckoning awaits the self-appointed master
            of the revels going down this week

reckoning comes not from God or karma
but pretense trips out in timely inordination
the way ridiculous demands wither of their own weight
the way wiseacre come-ons are as real as unicorns

real, yes, but also made up, like toxic salads and
bottomless bowls like gangrene implanted as
an ornament like the simple face going all sincere
to tell nothing but what isn’t and wasn’t

we could lie as often as every three seconds and
no one would notice given the right rhetoric
we could rip and tear down before the very eyes
of the inquisitors who would not notice unless wanting to

desire formulates and fashions so often the voice
the vocalizations, the squeaks and squeals
the way we torque talk into a weapon for a goal
even we could not specify

for we are the possessed the prigged
the pregnant with impossibility spewing forth
whatever does our “duty” in the stupidity
of a momentary inopportunity

we are the desiring and destracting who
destroy anything we care to rip orchestrating
just this little slip that turns to a bevy
of misjudgment and misalignment

because we are so often a mess and mess up
and so often do so intentionally and so often
don’t care beyond the momentary thrill
of knowing we did it: we are the possessed

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

MYND ERASER, by Michael Jacobson

Click on the screen icon in the lower right to get a full-screen version.


Michael Jacobson will appear in Altered Scale 2, the on-line journal associated with this blog. It will be out in September.

Michael Jacobson is a writer and artist from Minneapolis, Minnesota USA. His books include The Giant's Fence, Action Figures, and The Paranoia MachineBesides writing books, he curates a gallery for asemic writing called The NewPost-Literate. He is also on the editorial board of SCRIPTjr.nl. In his spare time, he is working on designing a planet called "THAT"

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jason Lee Norman, Ann Bogle, Jefferson Hansen Reading in St. Paul

Canadian writer Jason Lee Norman will be reading this Sunday at 4 pm. Ann Bogle and I will open. Come if you can.

Common Good Books
38 South Snelling Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55105

Friday, July 13, 2012

Semiotics Gone Somatic Spectacle: Alan Singer's THE INQUISITOR'S TONGUE (FC2)

Notes after my reading of the novel

(The novel is set during the Inquisition. It concerns the confession of wine taster Osvaldo Alonza de Zamora, and a priest who reads his confession to a character known as "Samaritan.")

1. Wittgenstein holds that not even pain is private. Pain is signalled by a limp, a grimace, a scowl, a pointing indication. Even "being alone with pain" assumes a social from which you are alienated.

2. Cloak upon cloak upon cloak. Even an erect penis is cloaked with meaning (The Inquisitor's Tongue (264), especially when it reveals itself in an unexpected context.

3. The naked body is never naked, but the sign of a sign of a sign.

4.  "Exposing the truth of pretense can never be forgiven" (118).

5.  "Speak for yourself and become someone else or be what you can be called" (66). We represent ourselves not as we are but to cause shifts and moves in a social matrix. If we don't play the game, we will be played.

6. "The spectacle will lead us to the knowledge that other people possess interiors as dark and as turbulent as our own, the writhing made finally peaceful in the lifeless cords of sinew and shapeless mire of muscle and soft tissue, that, given time, pools upon the stones of the Plaza" (74). Ritual killing—brutal, spectacular killing where the body is tied to horses who charge in opposite directions—is replete with meaning, replete with lessons, is abhorrent and strangely true. It is a horrific act that serves to define the limits of the acceptable: You may not live here as a Jewish person. You may not do this, you may not do that.

7. "The criminal must have a deed to confess or his execution will have no meaning" (87). If need be, a confession (semi-private), any confession, must be tortured out of the "criminal" to make the public execution significant and worthwhile.

8. The theatrical stage is a social context, frame, and ritual. A certain wildness is allowable there. To show that the religious stage is nothing but theater is to court a hellfire on earth. When frames of spectacle are traversed, anything is possible.

9. Anything, that is, until the authorities crack down in a vivid and public display of the limits of the allowable: blood and muscle pool and stain the stones of the Plaza. Reminders.

10. "She would see me pulled to pieces upon the slick stones of the Plaza de la Salvacion" (135).

11. "He had already crooked his arm, signalling..." (152). Why "crooked"? To signal that this signal is itself crooked, stemming from devious motives, ensnared in a body of subterfuge, as scary as a man in a black robe behind a big desk, holding a gavel.

12. "The Inquisition waits upon the word. Is it not an expiation to serve the Auto de fé?" (189). From the perspective of the Inquisitor, "sinners" invite the pain, the public torture-to-death, the spectacle, because they sinned in the first place. To sin is to ask for the nail in the palm, as Christ did. To sin is to cordially ask the Inquisition to rip you while alive, rip you apart.

13. "The body does not suffer fully except in a state of nakedness" (192).

14. "The meaning of it is clear" (250). But not really.

15. Clarity itself is a cloak. Of a cloak. Of a cloak.

16. We clearly do not live in the Inquisition in the contemporary U.S., and it would be an act of true insensitivity to pretend we did. However, we cannot help when reading a historical novel to compare our time to the one being represented. We, too, live in a bevy of signs: simmering, contradicting, demanding, decaying, transforming. We, too, live amid spectacles that attach to the body like rope: handcuffs, blood, prison spires. Today, we often like to pretend these symbols have gone, that we live amid practicality, that our prisons are not Gothic architecture but built simply to get a job done most efficiently.

17. Efficiency is its own sign. Who we lock up is in part an ode to our love of efficiency, among many other signs (things.)

18. What spectacle or threatened spectacle is holding your body in place right now?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Kinship of Rivers at Soap Factory in Minneapolis July 28

This is taken from The Soap Factory website.

    • Kinship of Rivers is a five-year international river project that uses collective art, poetry, stories, music, dance and food to bring a sense of kinship among the people and communities along both the Mississippi and Yangtze Rivers.

      The celebration throughout the day will include many different components, from music to dance, poetry to flag making, in which people from every walk of life are encouraged to participate. The gallery will be a gathering point for people to come together in celebration of the Mississippi and the Yangtze Rivers. At 6pm, The Soap Factory is hosting a performance of Ten Thousand Waves, a narrative poem written by Wang Ping set to music by Bruce Bolon. The Kinship of Rivers event will end with the completion of Tibetan mystic art: Sand Mandala, performed by Lama Yeshi Choedup, and a grand ceremony for peace and clean water.

      Visitors are invited to join artists Wang Ping, Ruthann Godollei, Lisa Steinmann and Lisa Erickson in making River Flags. These flags, decorated with beautiful poems and images about rivers, connect the river communities along the Mississippi and Yangtze. Already, thousands of river flags have been made by children, seniors, writers, musicians, dancers and artists, and sewn together into banners, which serve as kinetic ambassadors of peace, joy and harmony.

      “As the flags flutter in the wind along the shores, they release our gratitude and good wishes into the world”, says artist Wang Ping.

      The Yangtze and Mississippi Rivers share many things in common as the world’s third and fourth greatest rivers. Both rivers are rich with history and culture, inspiring poets, writers, artists and musicians. As the two rivers flow across the continents, giving and taking on their way to the sea, they teach us that we are all connected.

      Kinship of Rivers Program: July 28th

      10am - 7pm

      - Sand Mandala of Peace by Yeshi Choedup

      1 -5pm

      - Wind chime sound installations by Carleton Macy, recorder by Macy, yangqing by Peiju Picardo with melodies from the Yangtze and Mississippi

      - Kevin Conroy builds a bamboo dome for chimes. Visitors are welcome to help build the dome and bring their own wind chimes to hang on the frame. Their sound will join in the melodies from the two rivers.

      - Tea ceremony with Peiju Picardo from Samosa Tea

      - Making river flags to bring to the Yangtze River and Tibet in 2013

      3 - 5pm

      - Dumplings with the Yangtze recipe and organic ingredients


      - Ten Thousand Waves Ensemble, lyrics by Wang Ping, music by Bruce Bolon


      - Completion of the Peace Mandala, a closing ceremony and offering the mandala to the river. Half of the mandala sand will be given to the audience as blessing, and the rest offered to the Mississippi for healing

      About the artist:
      Wang Ping is a poet, writer, photographer, grant writer and fund-raiser, organizer for the trips and manager for the whole installation collaboration. Born in Shanghai, Wang Ping now lives on the bank of the Mississippi. She’s been photographing and writing about the two rivers for the past decade, and would like to build bridges across the rivers with her art and poetry and with this river project.

      About sand mandala:
      Of all the artistic traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, that of painting with colored sand is one of the most unusual and exquisite. In Tibetan, this art is called dul-tson-kyil-khor, which literally means “mandala of colored powders.” Millions of grains of sand are painstakingly laid into place on a flat platform over a period of days or weeks.

      Formed of an iconography that includes geometric shapes and a multitude of ancient spiritual symbols, the sand-painted mandala is used as a tool for re-consecrating the earth and its inhabitants.

      It begins with an outline of the mandala. The following days see the laying of the colored sands, which is effected by pouring the sand from traditional metal funnels called chak-pur. Each monk holds a chak-pur in one hand, while running a metal rod on its grated surface; the vibration causes the sands to flow like liquid.
      After their completion, the sand mandalas are swept up and placed in an urn; to fulfill the function of healing, half is distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony, while the remainder is carried to a nearby body of water, where it is deposited, to be spread throughout the world for planetary healing.

      In dul-tson-kyil-khor, the traditional Tibetan art form, millions of grains of sand are laid into place, in a process that takes weeks.

      Based in the historic National Purity Soap Factory in downtown Minneapolis, The Soap Factory is a laboratory for artistic experimentation and innovation, dedicated to supporting artists and engaging audiences through the production and presentation of contemporary art in a unique and historic environment.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Chapter 2, "Goldfinch," from the novel BACKYARD BIRDS GO BESERK by Jefferson Hansen

Diabolism 7
Lisa: “I don’t know what got into me that night, Jésus. I’m not that kind of girl. I’m really not.” We were in the same bar. With the same bartender. This time, Pity and Hiero, again in trench coats, stuck around. They talked quietly on the other side of Lisa.

Jésus: “I don’t know what got into me, at all. I’ve never been so, uhm, uhm…”

Lisa: “You were a tiger. A real tiger, Jésus.”

Jésus: “Thanks, I guess. But that’s what’s weird. I’m not a tiger. All my girlfriends have complained about how rotten I am in bed.”

Lisa: “You were a little scary. But you weren’t rotten.” She sipped her wine. “But talking about scary! That roommate of yours, the Wolf.”

Jésus: “I don’t have a roommate named ‘the Wolf’. What are you talking about?” I live with a couple women in their 30’s and this little Chinese guy from Toronto.”

Lisa: “Then who bit me?”

Jésus: “Nobody bit you. You’re not accusing me of biting you, are you?”

Lisa: “No. Your roommate. The Wolf. He bit me.”

Jésus: “I don’t have a roommate named ‘The Wolf’.”

Lisa: “Then who bit me?” Her mouth hung open, and her brown eyes went round and haunted. “My God, that’s right. There was no wound in the morning. When I woke up there were no teeth marks. And he drew blood.”

Goldfinch 1

American Goldfinches stand about five inches tall and feed at vertical tubes holding thistle seeds. They perch on small dowels situated right under small holes they can peck their small, conical beaks into. In the summer, the vibrant yellow male cannot be missed. The female is less noticeable. Sociable birds, they tend to hit the feeder in groups.

Goldfinches do not sit still for long. Nervous and chirpy, they flit and bounce from dowel to dowel for no apparent reason.

The Narrator 7

You can call me “Goldie,” or “Cindy.” You may still call me “Jackson,” if you like. However, the name “Jay” may have become old hat by now, if you prefer.

Diabolism 8

“Jésus, I’m feeling antsy,” said Pity, his round albaster face hanging like the underside of hell. “Let’s move around.”

“You mean you want to barhop.”

“No, let’s move seats. Let’s get a different view.” He grew agitated, and gesticulated grandly, in a manner unusual for him. “Let’s go sit on the other side of the bar.” The bar was a large oval with the bartenders moving about in the middle.

“Hey, that sounds good,” said Lisa. She popped up and skittered down behind the bar stools, finally selecting one about halfway down one side of the oval. I took a spot opposite hers.

Chris, the tall young bartender, in a white shirt and black tie, scowled at us. “Are you guys trying to mess with me?”

“No, haven’t you ever needed to get a different view? Just try something else out? Just do something new?”

“Jésus, are you all right?”

“What do you mean? I feel great. I got all this energy. Don’t know where it came from.”

“Stop picking on him, Chris,” said Lisa. “Can’t a guy just be keyed up?” He mumbled something about how we couldn’t expect him to be saving our seats if we acted like that, then shook his head and went to wait on someone else.

Pity sat down next to me. He spoke quickly, his fleshy face bouncing. “What do you say, man, what do you say? Hey, I watched this TV show last night about dolphins. Turns out that if kids with autism swim with them when they’re young, they get cured. I wish my nephew could have done that. He’s 16 now. He wouldn’t have autism. I’m a member of Cure Autism Now.” Pity took a quick, jabbing peck at his beer. “Some people don’t believe in that. They don’t think autism is something that should be cured. They believe we need to accept people just as they are. Now I believe that, too, but you got to be realistic about things, know what I mean? You can’t just be idealistic. Now, take this job I had once. Teaching calculus at a Prep School. You know that some of the rich parents call the shots. But I decided I had to be absolutely fair and true and did all I could not to know the status of the kids’ parents, and if I did find out I tried to forget all about it right away. Well, ignoring that sort of social reality in that kind of setting is like trying to ignore gravity, my man, my man Jésus. It’s just the fact, the foundation, the basic IS. I got nailed, man. I held everyone to the same standard, and some rich parents did not approve when I disciplined their kids. No way. They had this administrator interview my students to try to drum up stuff on me to get me fired. Guess what? Her conclusion. ‘To a person, your students said they learned more about math from you than from any other teacher’. So the next year they hired an outside consultant to come in and write me up like I was the worst thing going. I got the job I have now as an accountant before they fired me.” He took another peck at the beer. I could see he was about to keep going, but I jumped in.

“The insipid dialysis of unneeded organs costs the taxpayers untold numbers of seeds and thistles every year,” I said. “We need to fornicate in new patterns.”

Pity jumped in. “Man, Jésus, my man, you can’t force the issue on the thing. It’s the thing, not the issue and not the idea. Like the untold brick that bumps the brat. Like the instant of the seismic shiver and the dimpled downsize. Like the—“

“Hey,” I interrupted, “medical devices such as the Pacemaker save lives but what about souls? Why save a life if the life ain’t worth living?”

“When did you start saying, ‘ain’t’, my man?”

“Hey, it just popped out. When did you start saying, ‘my man’ all the time? You’re so straight—” Before I finished Pity grabbed his pint glass and hopped off the stool. He practically skipped to a booth where Hiero and Lisa sat. I turned to my right and engaged this couple who seemed on a date. Why would I bug them?

“The riff went instantaneous and we cried out the ensemble of the nightmare,” I began.

“Right on, man,” said the guy. “Look, we’re in the middle of something.” I ignored him and talked to his back about how the underside of music, even the most upbeat and celebratory, even the most gushy of Mozart, must always hint at the weird, the subversive, the taboo, the ghastly, the …

The Narrator 8

All the diabolical birds were born in 777 AD. None of them die. They flit from body to body like parasites, possessing them, turning them to “personalities” other and ridiculous. The sober gone stoned. The drunk gone straight. The shooters gone clean. The jailed gone confusedly free.

It’s all in good fun.

Sometimes games rule the world.

Not everyone thinks birds are evil. A friend of mine keeps them as pets.

But I know some birds thoroughly.

The Narrator 9

Trait psychology holds that each individual can be described by a list of adjectives and nouns, known as ‘traits’. For instance, a person is introverted, optimistic, has a good sense of humor, is well-adjusted, and so on.

This is bunk. Yes, people have habits they fall back on frequently. A person has a way of greeting strangers, a way of behaving around the parents, a way of cheering up when feeling alone and isolated.

But these habits are fragile and changeable. A flip of the coin. A slight alteration in the laws of nature. A quantum bubble working through the neurons.

The birds.

There is no getting a grip on a person. We are all capable of most anything given the right situation.

Goldfinch 2

Molting: The Goldfinch loses all but its wing and tail feathers in the spring. In the fall it loses all of them. After the autumn molt, the goldfinch turns a duller color. During the nonbreeding season, finches love one another and are quite gregarious. However, when breeding and building nests, the males in particular become quite territorial.

Blue Jays may kill the young and steal eggs.

Diabolism 9

I flitted over to the booth where the others sat. Lisa was chattering quietly about how she wanted to steal the dollars and coins—the tip—lying on the booth behind her. She said she had never done that before.
            Hiero said, “That’s not like you, Lisa. Let’s talk about The Simpsons. It’s the longest-running show in TV history. When it started, there were no animated situation comedies…”
            Pity spoke over him. “I am your friend, Lisa, and I stand behind you no matter what you do short of genocide.”
            Lisa was looking around the bar, waiting for her chance. “Hey, Lisa, sister,” I said, “why do you want to do that? Where’s the kicks? Where’s the fun? Hey, the waitress may be a single mother.” She leapt up and swung around, then swiped the money in a gesture swifter than aerosol spray right as it bursts from the button.
            Dolly walked over, roses tattooed to one forearm, a falcon on the other. A big head of red hair frizzy and down to the shoulders. Sometimes she was mean, sometimes sweeter than sugared tea on an afternoon of incineration.
            “Lisa, why did you steal my tip?”
            “I didn’t steal your tip. I don’t know what you are talking about. Talk to the manager if you have a problem.” Dolly stood above us, her mouth a straight line.
            “Know what I keep for a pet?” asked Dolly. “A falcon. Do you know what a raptor is?” Lisa shook her head ‘no’. “A bird of prey. They feed on other birds, on mice, other weak things. I like falcons.” While she said this she reached into her pocket in her apron. Something clicked. “When I have problems, I don’t go to no manager.” She showed us the handle of the switchblade, the tip still in the apron pocket. “You guys are regulars. You’ve always tipped well. I would hate to lose you—in any way whatsoever. I would hate to lose you in this way, or that way, tortured this way or that way.” She stared at Lisa. “Cough it up, bitch.” Lisa reached into her pocket and gave her the money.
            “I’ll put it down to your not being yourself today. Could happen to any of us.” She leaned over, her thick forearms on the table. “You mess with me again, well, you know.”
            “Hey,” I said, “What do you feed the falcon.”
            She stood back, folded her arms, and stared at me. “You know that exotic pets store on 38th? I buy dead frozen mice by the bag, thaw them in the micro. I’m not supposed to do that, but I don’t got all day to let them thaw on the counter.”
Goldfinch 3

Toward predators, the goldfinch’s only protection is alarm calling.

Terrence Folz Reading From "Bunt Burke"

  Terrence Folz's chapbook  Bunt Burke will appear from The Circulatory Press in August 2021. The above film features him reading some o...