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Red Pants

The rooftops are a stair-step to my childhood home, a time when Mother washed me and my clothes, was always there when I looked up, making sure I was safe. There’s that gate of thin scrolling metal I couldn’t resist playing my fingers through until my hand got caught, the dank garage where I wanted to leave the light on so I wouldn’t have to overcome my fears next time Father sent me to let Fido out to do his business, the red pants that signaled from several streets away how much further I had to go. The way the wood slats creaked under my feet on the balcony, the smell of fresh sheets still makes me sleepy. I imagined jumping like a superhero into my red pants while they forever hung over the balcony. Sometimes I dream it and because they’re still damp they melt into my legs like cotton candy on my tongue. Mother always warned me to be more patient.

From Cuba; An Adventure in Image and Word, Paintings by Peggy McGivern and verse by Peter Stravlo inspired by our trip to Cuba last year. Opening Reception Friday May 16th, 5-8pm, Abend Gallery, Colfax and York, Denver CO I’ll be reading at the opening.

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BEDDED DOWN FOR THE NIGHT

It was a crumbling two lane road at dusk we saw their silhouettes on a ridge. Blacktop shadow leading us down the middle, fading to gray-green and peach and rays of blue like fingers losing their grip over the mountain, blood-orange grass calmly striving through patches worn by time. The whine of our small engine fell quietly into neutral so we could slow, turn, gaze in peace. That night all the hotels were full. It was the first night of many someone took us into their home, fed us, gave us a pillow.

From CUBA: AN ADVENTURE IN IMAGE AND WORD Opening reception Friday, May 16th, 5-8pm, Abend Gallery, Colfax and York, Denver CO. Paintings by Peggy McGivern. Readings by Peter Stravlo

BloggingTo Myself

9th January, 2014

Coffee, half a cinnamon role, same news I heard last night, yesterday afternoon, every outlet on the planet.

Stayed in bed so long don’t have time to work on my novel before work. Maybe I should just write poetry. Short, malleable, vague. Mysterious and deep, like Ulysses or a computer chip. Alas.

I could believe in something. Get a reason to get up, daily chores with aplomb, happiness. It’s a new year, after all.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s lots of fascinating things in the world to occupy time. And time’s, my time anyway, is finite, a necessary condition of mortality, uh, meaning.

I could believe in something. Helps with family relations, standing in the community, lessens tension at cocktail parties. Path of least resistance.

Another cup of coffee, half a cinnamon role, same news as last night, yesterday, same stories all over the planet.

An Atheist’s Prayer to His Faithful Friends

Facing wonder
Envy
Humility
My small back bowed
To divine
A scrap of insight

I watch my faithful friends
Bent and twisted under the burden
Taking comfort in our communion

They murmur
Feel the weight grow
Between us

Knowing
I do not know
How they rise
So easily

It is heavy
This failure
To straighten our backs
Together

Every time we shut our eyes
We shrink to our knees
Every time the morning beckons
We beg to know
Like an honest prayer
That goes unanswered

Taos Summer Writers Conference

Attending Robert Boswell’s Fiction for Serious Writer’s Workshop at the Taos Summer Writer’s Conference.

Love Boz’s approach, his insistence that writing be art, not merely craft, that craft underpins art, yes, but when well executed stays in the background of the piece, almost unseen, doing it’s multifarious job, like jesso and scraped layers of paint on canvas.

Increasingly I understand writing as analogous to painting. I look at a recent piece of Peggy’s (my wife, Peggy McGivern,) ‘Indian Pony Dream,’ and the blue-gray shadows defining the pony’s dominant-white body are a turn of phrase with multiple meanings, without too definite a line, and the more powerful for it.

My eyes read over a wavy block of color without noticing the technique, the brushstrokes, showing me withers, ribcage, health and wild beauty standing in high grasses, provoking emotion and imagination, a phrase I can dissect in subsequent readings and analysis, an Alice Munro story offering more pleasure the more I look.

Peggy is experimenting with abstraction, and I, too, am learning how to give myself permission, permission to scrape words from my pages, see what stubbornly persists despite the razor’s edge, despite my habits and previous understanding.

My workshop mates and I are like the ponies flying dreamlike in the sky of the painting, our inner world to make manifest on the canvas and pages of experience, the evolution of memories, a new ingrained habit to use and overcome.

Taos Mountain looms in the background of our pony dreams and inspires us with beauty and novelty. I walk out of a spirited session, my mind galloping somewhere between dreams and realities, and I don’t want to drift down from the sky, even though the high desert beckons, its impossible light on the chamisa, sage, adobe, and my mind nourishing and ecstatically real. How can I maintain this ill-equilibrium, this equine existence reduced to its core?

I will not worry with that. Today I can run with my ponies through the high grass, reaching for the sky.

Failure

When we bought our old Victorian house, it was pretty run down; now, it is a showpiece in the neighborhood. I can buy any car I want, but I prefer to restore older models. My business affords me comforts I never imagined. My wife is not only beautiful, but extremely talented. My children and many grandchildren forgive my selfishness, and I am a failure.

We had a plan. In two years my wife quit working to pursue her art career full-time. In four years we saved enough money to last several years so I could pursue my dream. When I was thirteen I promised myself I would be a writer.

So in the middle of the night these words I scribble vie for space in my life. The familiar colors of spring turn to summer greens, the sunlight plays at my feet after navigating yellow leaves of poplars I planted in that season of promise. Their shade is pleasant now, but I hope for a lasting legacy, to arrest life and resist the vagaries of time.

My old friends ask: does someone misinterpreting your thoughts in a hundred years make up for the sleepless nights, the missed holidays, the loneliness? I am afraid to answer that my greatest moments of joy are shared with the page, that I have never experienced meaning that is not also metaphor.

A reader is a secret relation, like being able to pick your relatives instead of blind fate imposing its will. But what if no one is reading?

I have close friends, six brothers whose mother died.  She wrote a beautiful diary spanning forty years, and I am the only person who ever read it. Now I am her seventh son.

So I write, I think, I learn; and I answer the questions: How’s your book coming? When is it going to be published? I’d love to read it. Until no one knows whether to believe me anymore. Maybe all I am doing is watching old movies

The End of Night

I use more of each night until sleep is a burden
Those peaceful hours that mean so much
That I do not go back to sleep
The sounds of the city are finally articulate
A train warning no one
A huge slab of metal crashing for years over a crater in the road
Because I’ve never been able to think of it as anything else
Buses ending, then beginning
Walking voices
Lives beyond the shades
A lonely siren like a random alarm clock
Age lending urgency to time
Between dreams and reality
Beholden to no one

Letter to Dan Ellis

Dan,

Good to hear from you. Hopefully your strategic successes will overwhelm your tactical challenges.

I have included my friend, Ed Lawry, in this discussion, as Ed is not only a storied philosopher, but a scholar of aesthetics as well.

As for Kant. Though it’s likely I live much of his philosophy each day, it’s been a long time since I’ve read him. I am reading mainly fiction and poetry these days. As much as philosophy teaches me, at this point in my life I am focused on fiction and poetry to enrich my understanding, allowing me to break the bonds of analytics.

For Kant Psychological principals would be those governing our thought processes. The laws of cause and affect, for instance, are reflections of the structure of our mind/brain (let’s not complicate things with Descartes for the moment.) We think one thing causes another because we consistently see the first thing occur immediately preceeding the second (constant conjunction), and our mind posits that the first must be the cause of the second. It’s a very happy way of walking around the world without falling off a cliff.

What we don’t really know is whether this way of making sense of the world corresponds to the way the world really is, or if it’s merely a result of the way our mind must, due to the way it’s structured, process our perceptions.

Thus we live our lives ‘as if’ we perceive and understand ‘things in themselves.’

But we can never know ‘things in themselves.’ We only know things as we perceive them. Thus both empirical and psychological principals are based on our perceptions, which may or may not correspond to the ‘real’ world, and thus could never function as a reliable basis of a true demonstrated science.

This brings me to ‘Art For Your World,’ the statement on your website.

I have never thought of the mantra ‘art for art’s sake,’ as imposing such a weighty obligation on the viewer. A freeing of the artist, certainly.

Now I am going to bastardize Descartes. ‘I create, therefore I am.’

One of the great lessons I took from running the gallery is my definition of a true artist. It was a great experience to help so many aspiring artists exhibit for the first time. Most were, as you were at the time, burdened with the unreasonable capitalist imposition of paying rent.

You had to do your art after work, on the weekends, using your sick days that I did not pay you for.

I discovered that some people have to create. Like my beautiful wife Peggy McGivern, they have to physically change the world they live in. This is what I call a true artist.

Many people love art, and many are smitten with the romantic notion of being an artist, or bohemian, or rebel, or don’t like their life.

But a true artist is compelled to create. It’s therapy, exercise, as necessary as breathing, filtering ‘things in themselves’ through the nose hairs of their minds, existing ‘as if’ the cause and effect structure of their existence was malleable, invoking the same instinct to control their world as Kant is trying to understand when he embarks upon ‘The Critique of Pure Reason.’

Is it, as you suggest, a failure of the modern art avant-gard if the artist does not have the viewer in the back of her or his mind when comsumed by creation?

Is the viewer sinning when s/he doesn’t at least attempt to take the artist’s intentions into account?

Maybe we all just owe it to ourselves to contemplate creation; seen, heard, felt, processed, as if…

Give my love to Brenda,

After and Before

Having lived a life full of children and grandchildren, spouses and lovers, work and adventure, with enough integrity in the end to apply the vague term happiness, Chandra is strangely disconcerted to discover death does not equal non-existence.
At first Chandra assumes the windy, dark luminescence is part of the death process, until there is no sequence of events, no movement, no curiosity, and no reason to get there.
Yet Chandra remembers being Chandra, indistinctly, as if memories are dreams of time and space minus history and reason.
Chandra has a sense, not one of the five, but complete and neutral. Chandra wants to call it a feeling of the soul because there is no choice but to borrow familiar nomenclature.
The dark wind feels like enveloping water, Chandra drowning calmly without fear that time will lead to an unknowable future, or that space could propose any obstacle.
And the familiar is a cookied page haunting Chandra’s soul, filling its emptiness, blowing in the luminescence, a benign virus swirling in the water.
When the water breaks and the womb births Chandra remembers Chandra for milliseconds or millennia before the nurse slaps Chandra’s bottom, a new breath is drawn, and the memory of Chandra is lost in the after and before.

A Funeral is a Family Reunion

A funeral is a family reunion
All the elements of love are there:
Deep Memories (Anger)
Surprise (Evolution)
Empathy (Emptiness)
Regret (Desire)
Sincerity (Latent Interpretation)
Ego (Agenda)
Forgiveness (Hierarchy)
Breaking Bread (Stirring the Pot)
Compliments (Envy)
Honesty (Novel Interpretation)

By now the sadness has passed, a half-life of reflection lingers, a posthumous friendship, mortality respected.
And a moment of joy may be as simple as forgetting the petty details, or waking up in the morning, not knowing why.