In this essay on Lithub, Karl Taro Greenfield notes that not every writer is destined for greatness.
Numbers numbers numbers: NINE
Early on in my other life I was hand-picked and hired to assist with budgets, to work with numbers. One of the higher-ups remarked that my spelling score was quite good for a “numbers person.” This amused me to no end, as I’d no inkling that a) anyone in the world considered me fluent with numbers, or b) that the mundane labor that comprised my livelihood had been noticed, much less evaluated, by someone beyond my small, three-person office (certainly no one noticed the writing I’d produced and published). More than a quarter century later, I’m still amused. And still working with numbers, which even now remain mysterious, magical, and even inspiring.
Take the number nine. Multiply it by two, and you get 18. Add the two digits that comprise 18, one and eight, and you get 9. Multiply it by three: 27. Total the two digits forming 27, and you get, yes, 9. Multiply it by four, by five, by six, by seven, eight or nine. Add the digits that comprise the sum and you return to nine. Interesting, no?
It appears everywhere. In Islamic cosmology, the universe is built of nine spheres. In Ancient Mexico, the netherworld consisted of nine layers. The magic square consists of nine parts. Beijing was designed as a center with eight streets. Hindu temple foundations contain jewels and nine distinct grains. The human body has nine openings. The number also appears in both sacrificial and healing rites. The River Styx bends nine times. I could go on (we haven’t scratched the surface), but will refrain.
And if this piece piques your curiosity, you might find this poem inspired by zero (a truly fascinating subject) of interest:
Or this one, “That Number upon Which the Demand Lieth,” which takes up the number three.
My last five posts of 2017 are reruns of the five most viewed posts on this site during the year. This one appeared in July.
I am fortunate to have a writing space of any sort, much less a comfortable one.
This is the shack that launched a thousand rejections…or something like that. It’s small, with a 10 x 12 footprint, and is getting crowded inside. The photo was taken in August 2013, a few weeks before the interior was finished out. Note the inspector, Jackboy, with his ball.
The most important feature of the shack is the air conditioner. The bookcases are nice, too, but the heat would be unbearable without the a/c unit.
Books keep migrating here. I wonder why. The cattle dog spent many hours in the dog bed, but the Chihuahuas prefer the house.
I try to use the available space as efficiently as possible, hence the skinny book cases. The painting is by Stuckist painter Ron Throop, whose art and words inspire me.
The desk is usually messier than this…
Birds often smacked into the righthand window, until I added the little mobile fabricated from a piece of cedar and wooden bird ornaments.
Yes, that’s a stationary bike. The good thing about having such a small space is that I can ride the bike and reach over for a sip of beer without having to pause.
I’ve been banging on that guitar for forty years. It’s a little worn, but then so am I. The broadside is a Galway Kinnel poem, “Little Children’s Prayer,” which joins a small group of signed broadsides in the shack, featuring poems by Jane Hirshfield, Arthur Sze and Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Alas, I’m running low on wall space.
The reconciled, the residue of one’s
virtues displayed or absorbed
that within become the basis for
talk: furtive movements, the knife’s
gentle persuasion, wine
afforded the quality of enhancement.
We must preserve the truth, and other
disingenuous phrases, as if we may
admit our tastes only at great cost
to our politics and sense of being.
And fruitful loss – the reduction
sauce, or stock evaporated – which
attaches in dissipation
the grace of subtlety. To be more
with less. To be apparent yet
concealed. To be, in turn, aware.
“Osso Buco” first appeared here in March 2015.
My knife never sings but hums instead when withdrawn from its block, a metallic whisper so modest only the wielder may hear it. Or perhaps the dog, who seems to enjoy the kitchen nearly as much as I. A Japanese blade, it’s a joy to hold, perfectly balanced, stainless steel-molybdenum alloy, blade and handle of one piece, bright, untarnished, and so sharp as to slide through, rather than awkwardly rupture and divide, its next task on the board.
We’ve never counted the chopped and rendered onions, the fine dice, slender rings and discarded skins, but if we could gather all the corpses we’ve produced together over the years, we’d form a monument to our work, cooperation of metal and man, a Waterloo mound in memory of the bulbs laid there, the planning involved, the missteps and serendipity, and the tears shed along the way.
The blade doesn’t care. It is. It works. It moves things, it lifts, it parts them, and in return is cleansed, and later, in the quiet room, maintains its edge with a silvery rasp, angled steel on steel in a circular motion, over and over, until finally it hums its way back into the block. But it never sings.
“Onions” last appeared here in September 2016. Hmm. This reminds me that I need to sharpen knives…
Ossuary / Arco Felice / 1974
Sometimes the bone man clattered by, his horse-drawn wagon heaped high with the stripped remains of dismembered corpses, a cloud of flies in his wake. I would watch him from my perch on the hillside above the street, contemplating the wondrous creatures that could arise if only one possessed the imagination and ability to assemble and reflesh the various rib cages and skulls, the scraped and articulate bones and fragments stacked on the wooden bed. I never considered a destination, never thought to follow, but instead wandered elsewhere, down to the waterfront, or along Via Domitiana to Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, not far, they said, from the River Styx.
Odd, I think, that I never once contemplated the various paths taken to bring that wagon before my eyes, to that very intersection, on those particular days. Nor did I wonder that it was drawn by muscle and sinew rather than engine, that its wares, while tarnished with dried blood, seemed curiously bereft of flesh and stench, and that its passage seemed unnoticed. Perhaps it was merely a parenthetical statement in the day’s phrasing, and I lacked the proper context with which to read it. Perhaps. But even at fifteen I knew that such sights were not long for my world.
Now, from this Texas hill, I listen to distant gunfire and wonder which bones will come my way, which offerings will appear at the roadside, what the dogs will bring. I have fifty-four years and much patience. The breezeway is lined with antlers. I wait, no destination in mind.
This prose piece was one of my first posts, and last appeared here in July 2015.
In my sliver of the world, poetry and cooking share many qualities. When I step into the kitchen, I often have only a vaporous notion of what’s for dinner. A hankering for roasted poblano peppers, the need to use a protein languishing in the refrigerator, the memory of an herbal breeze wafting down a terraced hill near Lago d’Averno, Hell’s entrance, according to Virgil, or even a single intriguing word, may spark what comes next. But the success of what follows depends upon the ingredients at hand, on how we’ve stocked the pantry. Good products beget better results. Let’s take my desire for roasted poblanos. What to do with them? Poking around, I uncover an opened package of goat cheese, a bit of grated grana padano and some creme fraiche, and I immediately think pasta! Looking further I spot arugula, a lemon, a handful of pecans, some cherry tomatoes. Dinner: Pappardelle with a roasted poblano and goat cheese sauce, garnished with toasted pecans, served with an arugula and cherry tomato salad dressed with a lemon vinaigrette. Simple, when you’ve stocked a solid base of quality components.
My writing employs a similar process. Anything – a vague sense of uneasiness, a particular word, the sunlight slanting through the unfortunate dove’s imprint on my window, articles or books I’ve read or perused on a myriad of subjects – may launch a poem. But what truly makes the poem, what bolsters, fills and completes, what ignites and catapults it arcing into the firmament are, of course, the pantry’s ingredients.
Everyone’s needs differ, and I wouldn’t presume to inflict my peculiar sensibilities on anyone, but if you cracked open my burgeoning poetry pantry’s door, you’d certainly unearth dictionaries and a thesaurus, fallen stars, books on etymology and language, curiosity, a guitar or mandolin, at least one window (sometimes partially open), conversations floating in the ether, various empty frames, wind, dog biscuits and dirty socks, a walking stick, sunlight and shadows, more books on such subjects as ancient navigation, the history of numbers, the periodic table, alchemy and olives. You might also spy reams of paper, unspoken words, coffee cups, a scorpion or two, scrawled notes on index cards, wandering musical notes, a pipe wrench, wood ear mushrooms and salvaged fragments of writing, failed ideas moldering in clumps on the floor, a few craft beers and empty wine bottles, a chain saw, and most important of all, a bucketful of patience.
(I cannot over-emphasize the bucket’s contents…)
This is just to say (no, I didn’t eat the plums) that the best equipped poets stock their pantries with the world and all its questions, with logic, with faith, persistence, emotion, science, art, romance and yes, patience. Line your kit with every tool you can grasp or imagine. Keep adding to it. Read deeply. Listen. Breathe. Listen again. Converse. Look outward. Further, past the trees, around the bend and beyond the horizon’s curve, where the unknown lurks. Look again. Don’t stop. Continue.
And if after all this you’re wondering what basks in my kitchen pantry:
This last appeared here in October 2015.