There is a great write-up about Halloween by a former occultist/pagan at Pennie Renewed which my friend Terry Ghiselli shared on facebook the other day. I agree with many of her points, though I think she goes farther than I would care to in rejecting it wholesale and without qualification (though I understand why she would, especially with where she is coming from).

I believe that God can redeem anything, including formerly pagan symbols (after all, they were God’s creation first). In fact, I agree in many ways with the sentiment expressed by Catholic apologist Rod Bennet in his Christian defense of Halloween regarding both enculturation AND God’s ability to redeem formerly pagan symbols.

On the other hand, someone who claims a Christian defense of Halloween, and publicly proclaims himself willing to be called a Knight in service of Satan (not denying the label, but apparently accepting it) such as Earl Capps seems to go beyond the pale, especially when his argument seems to consist of “I like it, and I don’t like people who tell me it’s bad.”

Then again, he references James B. Jordan’s Concerning Halloween, which seems to me to be the most internally consistent, well reasoned, and doctrinally sound defense of Halloween that I have seen (though his apparent complete rejection of the pagan origins of many of the symbols and/or practices seems to me to go further than the evidence would bear).

All of this reading brought to mind my own rant against Halloween from some years back in which I also proposed some possibilities for redeeming the day.

So I thought this October 30st, that I’d link back to that old post and see if it might spark further discussion.

In any case, my children will once again not be dressing up and “trick-or-treating” this year, nor will we be condoning by our attendance or support anything which smacks of accepting this still (in my view) very pagan holiday.

If you are a Christian and you are “celebrating” Halloween this year (or allowing your children to), I’d love to hear exactly what you are celebrating, how you are doing so, and (regardless of your reasoning) should we meet outside the blogosphere, I would have no problem in extending to you the hand of friendship and brotherhood (or even greeting you with a Holy kiss), even if I disagree with your practice in this case.

Let us continue to take thought of how to spur one another on to love and good works,


Recently, I was reading on Slashdot about how Professor John Brookfield has told the UK Press Association that the “pecking order is clear” with regard to the age-old chicken and egg question: “Therefore the first bird that evolved into what we would call a chicken, probably in prehistoric times, must have first existed as an embryo inside an egg.”

In the comments there, the much more important question of Why the chicken crossed the road came up, and one observer noted that:

“The question “Why did the chicken cross the road” is invalid. It is invalid because “why” assumes that the chicken had some reason for taking the action “cross the road”. This, in turn, assumes that the chicken has the concept of “road”; after all, if the chicken doesn’t know that the road is there, then the chicken did not – from the chickens point of view – cross the road, and consequently it is meaningless to ask for its motivations for doing so.

“Since chicken is an animal, it is unlikely that it has the concept of road in the same sense than humans do; since it is a bird, whose ancestors were propably capable of flight in the near past, it is unlikely to have the concept of road in any sense – why would a flying bird need roads ?

“Therefore, the chicken can never have any motivation for crossing the road, since from the chickens point of view, it never does any such thing. It simply moves from one point to another, and these points happen to be on the opposite side of a flat area of ground. No road-crossing has happened.

“Think of it this way: if you walk over a scent trail left by some animal, and you don’t know that the trail is there, it is foolish to ask your motives of crossing that trail. One can ask your motives for walking in the first place, but the crossing was pure coincidence and not something you chose.”

My Reply:

Actually the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is perfectly valid. While you may be correct that the chicken does not have a ‘reason’ for crossing the road because reasons (used precisely rather than as in common parlance) require intentionality with regard to their object, causes do not require intentionality and yet are at least as commonly if not more commonly the object of the interogative ‘why’ as reasons are.

To put it simply, I may say that the cause of the chicken’s crossing of the road was the action of a particularly strong gust of wind in that direction. This provides an adequate explanation for the phenomenon and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” without imputing sentience or intentionality to the chicken’s actions.

I may further say (if I wish) that the chicken crossed the road to eat the grain on the other side. This both imputes intentionality to the chicken, adequately explains the phenomenon and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” But wait, you may be saying, you just told us that intentionality isn’t necessary to answer the question. I did say that and I stand by it, but that does not mean that intentionality may not be involved in the answer to the question. In this case, however, the intentionality while needed to answer the question, is only tangentially related to the effect under examination. Specifically to answer the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” we are pointing out that the chicken intended to consume a certain pile of grain, and that the road was between the chicken and that pile. We still have not imputed to the chicken any knowledge of the road “as a road”. Rather we have simply explained the conditions and the intentions which led to the action of the chicken crossing the road, whether or not the chicken had a full understanding of those conditions.

Finally we must address the standard answer to the question: “To get to the other side.” Again this answer imputes intentionality to the chicken’s actions (the chicken did it ‘to get’ something) and it seems to imply a knowledge of the road (to understand ‘the other side’ the chicken must have knowledge of some object with two sides, understand that it is on one side of said object and desire to cross the object to reach the other side). Implied in this answer is that there is no further motivation other than getting to “the other side” and hence we cannot suggest that the answer simply left off the fact that there was a pile of grain on the other side which is the ‘real’ reason the chicken crossed the road. No. The chicken must have crossed the road for the sole and ultimate purpose of reaching the other side of “the road”. How are we to reconcile this with the (most unassailable) assumption that the chicken has no knowledge of the road “as a road” and the need to allow this statement as a positive answer to the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” We have specified that the chicken has no knowledge of a road “as a road”. However, we have never suggested that the chicken has no knowledge of the road “as something”. What then is the nature of the road as the chicken perceives it? We would not be unjustified in suggesting that at the very least the chicken has access to its own sensory data. It then must have a knowledge of the road as the “extended-hard-flatspace”. We need go no further in our suppositions. We have here a chicken with an exploratory bent who wishes to discover what lies beyond the “extended-hard-flatspace”. This adequately explains the phenomenon, assigns to the chicken a state of intentionality, relates that state of intentionality to the road, and answers the question “Why did the chicken cross the road?” with the statement “To get to the other side” all without in the least requiring that the chicken understand roads in the sense that we as humans understand roads.

Do you have a take on the Chicken Crossing the Road? Post it below. Feel free to post joke variations as well.

Well, maybe you didn’t. You didn’t really ask for unadulterated text. I decided to give it to you. Lost? Me too? Can I get us both out of it? The blind leading the blind? The blind leading the sighted even. Here’s some real live unadulterated text for you:


Somewhere in time, or perhaps I should say somewhen– I loved my grandmother. She was almost a storybook grandmother. She was more than a storybook grandmother. She taught piano lessons for Christ’s sake. How much more grandmotherly can you get? She gave me warm milk when I couldn’t get to sleep. And when that wasn’t quite right, she gave me warm milk and honey. She taught me to love words, and word games. She could calculate the scrabble value of any word without looking at the tiles and what’s more she’d look the word up for you when you were to lazy to figure out what that word (that you knew existed but couldn’t explain) meant. She lived far enough away for the trip to be an adventure, but close enough to be a permanent feature in my life. Blackberries grew in her backyard, and she let you pick as many as you wanted, even when she was trying to make blackberry ‘somthing’ as Christmas presents. She taught me to love music, to hate flats but love sharps, to stay away from the blues, and to stop playing when I was finished. A storybook grandma? No storybook grandma ever did what she did. Who else could make warm milk for a kid in underwear, a t-shirt, and galoshes and not even send him to bed when it was finished, but read stories about people made out of blocks, and foxes who were outsmarted by hens, and Bulls stung by bees? How can I face her? Her unresponsive face glares: I died when you were away in college zithromax pills buy online. I don’t even know you. How could I when you left me while I was alive and didn’t return until I was a zombie: dead to you? How can I tell her goodbye when I never said hello, I’m back, I’ve missed you? How can I cry now when I didn’t cry then. How can I accept this when I couldn’t accept that? How can I lie? I hide my tears in the dark, even as I spread them across the world. Everyone can know my thoughts except my family. Everyone can share my pain except those that I know should. I cannot cry. I cannot scream. I cannot even meet the stranger who has greeted my children every day as wonderful new surprises, come to ease her pain– Every day new surprises– Every day my children. Every day questions about their lineage. Everyday delight in their everyday antics. Even when I am just across the room, watching, even when I am holding her under each arm, scared beyond belief that brittle bones will snap and it will be my fault, as she walks across the living room calling for a husband who died in the world war, asking where she is and who I am, and then calling again for a daughter, my mother, the only one she can trust to tell her that she is still alive and not in hell, even when, when no one except her can hear, I whisper, “I love you.”– Even then– I cannot cry. I can only drift gently, without emotion, into the abyss over which I have been floating these last 9 years. And stoically, carefully, with a face silent and dead, shoulder a pall, bear a pole, march quietly to the grave, and pretend that the future is the past, and the present is merely a nightmare, and there are more piano lessons and stories and adventures, and warm milk with honey to come. And she isn’t even dead. GOD! The nurse says it’s a matter of hours. She’s wrong. It’s a matter of years. It’s a matter of a life.

My hope is to study Old English and Old Norse mythology and its diachronic influences on literature and mythopoeia when I enter grad school. As such, I would like to try my hand at poetic translations of some of the elder eddas. There have been plenty of prose translations, but none (that I know of) that retain the poetic structure of the epics. I want to use as much as possible the same poetic devices as were used in the Old Norse, which should for the post part, translate well into English. I also want to try more liberal poetic translations that update and modernize the myths, just for fun.

I have always been fascinated by the almost magical display of oil on the surface of still water. Chris Murray used this image to great effect in her recent poem River Six. I also ran across it in some back issues of Lilliput Review that I was browsing through recently. Much has been made of the dichotomy between the beauty and the poison. But what fascinates me, what really makes oil on water something special, is the worlds that one can see when looking in it deeply enough.

As a boy, I was enamored (as many young boys are, I think) with gutters. Not the rain gutters running around the roof of the house, but the more accessible and more lively gutters at the edge of the street. I was blessed to live by street with very active gutters, a microcosm within themselves. When the first drops of rain would begin to musically announce themselves on the tin roof of the shed in our backyard, I would be off like a shot to watch as the sand and gravel which congregated in ever-shifting mounds within the gutter would amazingly yield forth their hidden life, angleworms poking their heads–or bottoms who knows which–above the surface of the sand seeking air and safety from drowning. Never could they be caught when sought outside of the rain. Many times we emptied the gutters of their sedimentary layer, when imminent fishing trips pressed the need upon us, but shovels would avail a young man nothing. It was something of a miracle then that they could be picked up from the surface with no trouble at all within minutes after the start of the rain. But we were careful to return them to the gutter before the rain ended, afraid of breaking whatever spell allowed them to so spectacularly emerge with each shower.

If the rain was long enough or hard enough, the magic of the worms was soon subsumed by an even greater phenomenon. Paper boats were quickly made as the currents began to come into being. Soon I was a master of shipping for a multi-house corporation, sending my Anglish captain on voyages that (if the rain was significant) might last minutes. I was a micromanager, not content to trust the captain with my ship’s safety; I would run along beside it, ready to pluck it from the water at the first sign of a treacherous stick. Or if in a more contemplative mood, I might examine the flow for its own sake, perhaps experimenting to see what changes this or that arrangement of pebbles, sand or sticks might have on the visible marks of its movement that appeared on its surface. I would attempt to predict in advance what shapes and shifts would occur, and though my success rate hovered at near zero, I never tired of experimenting.

It was only when the rainstorm lasted long enough to exceed the capacity of the drains that the most miraculous mirage of them all would occur. Relatively still, the water would allow the oil, collected from the mechanical passers by to creep to its surface and congregate into larger and larger villages, towns, cities, countries, worlds. Oil creates, when spread thinly enough, a world that has depths that are unrelated to the impositions of mere physics. It appears to have a texture that extends further than the tenuously clinging molecules that stretch for each other across the surface, occasionally losing their hold on one another and allowing black holes to mar their perfection. It appears to extend beyond the water itself and into some other space and time. Mandelbrot could not create it. It is fluid. It is changing. It is evolving and devolving synchronously. And it has inhabitants, not real creatures crossing its surface, plodding water-bugs and foolish mosquitoes, but super-real creatures that live within the images, within the motion, within the lucidity of the imagination, and then with a SpLaSh, hand or foot, chemically or mechanically, sooner or later, the universe is destroyed, only to recreate itself with the same vigor and purpose as before.

The following vignette was published in the Spring 1993 issue of Knight of the Plume.

His appearance had been much altered by the coldness of his soul. The wrinkles in his face, and the lines on his brow were not the result of age or emotion. They just sat there like river beds run dry. His eyes did not look forward; his pupils were swallowed up in seas of blue-black irises. His tattered tights ended at his knees. The leather bag that hung at his side looked more like a millstone put there to drown him under its weight, than a place to turn for comfort and no9urishment. His vest and skirt of mail, constituted his only other clothing, and they had holes and tears that looked like giant arrows had sometime run him through. His feet were merely bubbles of blister on blister. Each time he set down his foot, pus would leak out into the sand, a terrible loss of precious fluids which he needed, making a wet foot print for a few seconds before the liquid was evaporated into the air or sucked into the hungry sand, leaving no trace. He no longer winced; it took too much energy. In one hand he held the staff, towering above him at twice his height, and slowly, silently, forsaken by all, he walked along the sands.

The wyrd was not kind to those who had resisted it. Other than the mountains to his back, there was no scenery except the sand. It went on forever, with no discernable flagging. Soon the mountains would dip behind the desert to their death, but he did not look around. Then as if it had been there all along, a little to his right appeared a stone. Actually a boulder might be a more accurate term, although stone seemed to fit it somehow. Five feet high, and six wide, its top had been leveled off by the winds which blew at that height across the deserted plains. He walked toward it, knowing that it would disappear.

It did not. And then, as if it had never left, the Wyrd spoke again.

“This is the place,” they said, and so he stopped, and prepared to fulfill his calling and then die. He walked around the rock and noted without surprise that a staircase, rough-hewn out of granite, went up the back. His pupils resumed their proper size. The waves that had bound his mind with their raging pounding madness began the ceaseless pound of duty that is every true wave’s purpose. But his heart stayed frozen. He set up camp for the night. It consisted of nothing more than the staff, glowing to shed light and give some heat, and his ill-clad body under the dipod of staff and stone.

Sculptor Auguste Rodin, most famous, perhaps, for his The Thinker, has a piece which has fascinated me since I first discovered it within the pages of Robert Heinlein‘s Stranger in a Strange Land: Caryatid with Stone. This beautiful girl has been required to support more than she can bear, to be the supporting pillar of an arch. Her beautiful body too frail for the task that was set, the weight has crushed her into an unnatural position, but her spirit is strong enough to carry on. She remains, still supporting the stone, despite her deformity, and will stand until eternity, endurance personified. Perhaps because my encounter with this sculpture was probably my first experience with the transformative power of visual art, its strength has always seemed to great for me to capture within the frail lines of a poem. I fear my poor poem might in fact be crushed, like the caryatid, under the weight of such a powerful emotional burden as this piece has for me. Nevertheless, I will eventually write this poem, when the distance feels great enough that I can approach it with the detachment necessary for my type of craft.

I was going through the Dallas mix-master the other day, and I was thinking about the homeless who shelter under overpasses, and how there seems to be an entire subculture among the sub-street tenants which has rules as fastidious and important as the rules that govern the social behavior of Boston Brahmins or the negotiations between businesses contemplating a merger. I have already taken several hours over several days to examine minutely the environment. I still need to observe more interplay between the residents, but I think that I will soon be ready to write the fourth in my Central Park sonnet sequence based on these observations. Actually, thinking about it even more, I think that perhaps since the first three have been intensely personal that I’ll turn the lens altogether away from the personal and look solely at the environment.

I had a migraine headache this weekend. Its effects were minimized by the use of Imitrex, but it nevertheless deeply impacted my ability to keep up with work, family and social responsibilities. I also dreamt about depression, in a most unusual way this weekend. It was a continuing dream, which took place over several sleeping periods.

The dream began in the way such dreams, which closely mirror reality and are usually indistinguishable from it, often do–with my awakening. I performed my morning ablutions as normal, but then, for some indefinable reason, rather than head out the door, I got into a heated philosophical debate about the value of selfishness to societal function and the existence, or lack thereof, of true altruism. Now I normally would argue against the existence of altruism, but in my dream I played angel’s advocate. However, this discussion lasted so long that when I looked at the clock I realized that I had missed a very important appointment. Now, this appointment was a big deal, and missing it was going to set me back almost six months in my life-plans. I was shell-shocked on looking at the clock. I literally couldn’t believe that I had missed this appointment, not in the “damn I can’t believe I missed it” but in the “the clock must be wrong; somebody fix it please” way. And I went catatonic. I couldn’t act, move, speak, or even think really (although I could think about not being able to think, so I guess I could think, in a way, though only tangentially).

All of this occurred in the first sleeping session, and when I woke, I retained some remnant of my nocturnal disorder. It was certainly enough for my wife to comment. Luckily it was the weekend, and so although I needed to get busy on many extracurricular projects, the fact that I went almost immediately back to sleep, sleeping away the majority of the day Saturday, did not cause my dream to become reality. I missed no appointments. But when I did return to slumber, my solipsistic state reasserted itself, and I continued to dream of inaction, of the inability to participate in communion with the rest of life. If I wasn’t depressed before I had this dream, this dream would have been enough to depress anyone, especially in the way that it merged with reality so that I was never sure how much was dream and how much was extant.

This cycle of sleeping, waking, sleeping, always to inaction whether in dream or in consciousness continued throughout the day Saturday. I recognize it now as one of the most severe premonitions or auras of an approaching migraine that I have ever had, but at the time it was truly frightening. I felt an almost Proustian juxtaposition of dream and waking, of reality, memory, future, past, and present. And I couldn’t be sure that it would end. I began, during my brief lucid and sober moments to contemplate coping strategies for a life lived in a catatonic dream (I believe I slept for close to 18 hours on Saturday). Had the mental state not dissipated with the onset of my migraine and the application of Imitrex during the middle of the night Saturday night, I would probably have felt the need to seek psychiatric evaluation on Monday. Whether or not I would have possessed the volition to initiate such a project is another question entirely. And so, in a way, the titanic headache was a relief.

I would like to capture this experience in poetry and, perhaps, to tie it to socio-political concerns. As an “average American,” (is there such a thing?), I feel impotent in the political arena, belabored in endless rules that intrude even into my personal life, and voiceless. I think the parallel will work, but I have more to do to clarify my thoughts on the metaphysical aspect before it will be ready to become a poem.

My linguistically formative years were probably more sheltered than the average Texan’s. My mother came from the American heartland (Utah/Colorado), that area whose regional dialect most closely approximates Standard American English, and she was my primary linguistic influence (My father was a Texan through and through, but had little influence due to his work). Because I was home-schooled, I didn’t even have the influences of my peers. Additionally, being in the “big-city,” Garland, TX, my exposure to traditional Texan drawl in public encounters was also virtually nonexistent. And so, I grew up without a Texan accent. Now I am for the most part grateful for my lack of ‘hick’ flavor, especially when visiting such anally retentive cities as New York and/or Boston, however, I am nevertheless proud of my Texas heritage. In fact, like many, I would say that I am a Texan first, and an American only distantly second, which is not to say that I am not proud of my American heritage as well.

So, I want to write a poem that captures my sense of identity as a Texan. I want to capture the pride of the Texas patriot, pride of size, pride of ethic, pride of identity, pride of solidarity, pride of ethnicity. But I want to differentiate the Texas of my heart-love, and the Texas of “Dallas” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” especially with its imminent recreation. I want to talk about the people. I want to create the sense of community which extends between all parts of this vast land from the gulf to the northern woodlands to the plains of the midlands to the western mountains to the dustbowl of the panhandle, each area proud of its own distinct features, but even more proud of the whole. I want to talk about the indigenous plants and animals, especially the ones which no outsider would realize makes a delicious snack: Red Sumac (the northern white variety is poisonous), prickly pear (easy to peel and great raw or stewed), wood sorrel (looks like clover with heart shaped leaves and a lemon bite), armadillo (hint, they don’t taste like chicken), whitetail (cook with pork fat to ameliorate the ‘wild’ taste), etc.

But most especially, I want to talk about my own struggle to come to terms with my own identity. Half of me looks down on the very un-global attitude that Texas takes with regard to economics, politics, ecology, and culture; half of me glories in participating in a regional culture that is proud of itself instead of one that despises itself (such as those in states like Mississippi, the Carolinas, and Virginia). I sometimes question where I fit within the Texas socio-political body. I actually spent years feeling like an outsider, an un-Texan, because I spent my first two months of life in Colorado and have a Coloradoan birth certificate. However, I never question my loyalty to Texas, my love of this land, or my love of its people, even when I occasionally look down on them for a “fixin’ to” construction or a pronunciation like “yawnptoo.”

What is it about Texas or Texans that makes us so particularly proud and patriotic? It may be, as some claim, our former independent status, but that seems unlikely considering the fact that no one alive today can personally remember that independence. Maybe it’s something in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the water. Perhaps it is lineage that does it. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m glad I’ve got it.

I was just remembering back to when I was 10 or 12, and bubble-blowing was an important indicator of social status. Someone who could blow a bubble that required a haircut was the elite of the elite (I never managed this), and my life was devoted to bubble blowing. I can remember spending endless hours debating the merits of various brands of choice: Bubble-Yum (King of Flavor), Hubba-Bubba (Superior Bubbles), Bubblicious (You chew that? What are you, stupid?), Double-Bubble (Tried and True). Bubble blowing is an event that requires one’s entire concentration. One must block out distractions mentally even as the bubble blocks off sight of the world. Sometimes, after some strenuous bubble blowing, you need a drink; you take a slug of that ice-cold water, and suddenly that bit of gum that was stretching out so nicely before shatters likes Mom’s best china when you dropped it on the floor. I remember when I lost my job, just after taking on the responsibility of a mortgage and new car payment, with a wife, a kid, and another on the way. It reminded me of when that all important, prize winning chew, shattered on impact after the plunge into ice water. Is there a poem in here somewhere? It seems so to me. Can I write it? I don’t know; I may have swallowed my gum.

It seems like everybody is writing about love, joy, death, and pain. This, of course, makes it difficult to come up with a new paradigm, though it increases the reward if one can. However, there are a lot of everyday things that though not quite on the level of these “higher” emotions, nevertheless have a profound effect on our lives. One such occurrence is the flu. Now sickness has had its share of poetic incarnations as well, and I don’t want to repeat what’s already been done, so there are several things that I want to avoid in writing a poem about the flu. One thing that I want to avoid is over-demonizing the flu, making it out to be worse than it is. A second thing that I don’t want to do is to use any kind of animal metaphor, i.e., the flu as a tiger, or the flu as a snake. Finally, I don’t want to write from the perspective of the flu. All of those directions, though I can’t place my finger on a single occurrence of any of them, feel worn to me.

Now, for me at least, the flu has been a fairly disturbing occurrence, interfering with family life, schoolwork, church activity. In short, the flu has totally disrupted my universe. That is one tack that I could take, but it falls into the first category of things that I don’t want to do, it is overblown. After all, I haven’t even had to go to the hospital or even to the doctor, and eventually I’ll recover, and forget what only seem like its devastating effects. Then, there is the scientific angle. I can’t know if that would work without some more research, but I know this much, the flu is a living virus, and it in some way attacks certain (and only certain, I think) of the body’s cells. Without falling over the edge into animal metaphor, this might offer some possibilities which could be fleshed out. What I really want to do, though, is focus on the intimate, human feelings and symptoms that accompany the flu. In other words I want to write about how one’s outlook on life is changed while under the influence of the flu, how one’s body operates differently on a macro rather than symptomatic level, how one’s relationships are affected adversely by the flu’s ravages.

I think that in keeping with the feeling of the flu, the villanelle, sestina, or other highly repetitive form might be appropriate for such a poem. Another possibility would be an original repetitive and chorused rhyme scheme. It also might be fun to play with the sounds of the flu within the poem, emphasizing and repeating nasals and gutturals and working primarily with short vowels to attempt to get across the sound of the flu in addition to its feeling. Another aspect of the flu which might influence the form is its ephemerality. You have the flue, and then it is gone, and you really do forget all about it; your life is back to 100% normal. Some type of circular motion to the poem as a whole might help to convey this. Maybe begin and end the poem in health. I’m not sure if that can be done and the depth of the change still be plumbed, nor am I sure that that is important enough of a property to take the important beginning and end of the poem, but it’s something to play with and see what can be done.

The other day, as I was sitting in a Linguistics class, I was, of course, thinking of something entirely different, namely, my hands. Hands are really marvellous when you think about it. There are so many emotions that can be expressed with just the hands; there are so many communicative functions that nothing but the hands can transfer so well. Think about how much can be communicated by a simple squeeze of the hand. It’s more than you might think. It could of course be an expression of love between two lovers, just before they part for the first time after consumating their passion. It could also be the expression of undying devotion by the unrequited lover to his love as he kneels to kiss it. It might be a warning of danger between a parent and her child, because a car is coming down the street, and he was just about to step off the curb–good thing she makes him hold her hand. It might be a test of manly wills as the grip gets harder and harder, between father-in-law and son-in-law-to-be, perhaps. Or it might just be a signal that all is right with the world. I think I’d like to write a poem about hands. Think of all the things it could express.

I want to write a poem that describes sex in terms of negation. For instance, I might say that I don’t want to have intercourse because it sounds too much like something that gets quickly slipped in between the entrée and desert. I want to make heavy use of anaphora, to build up pressure, and to reflect the repetition of the act itself. I want to use shorter lines than is typical for me in order to make the poem move quickly, although I might occasionally intersperse a longer line to build anticipation. I also want to use a significant level of enjambment, especially on the longer lines, to reflect the delayed gratification that exists in my ideal sexual act. Some other ideas or memes that I think might fit within this schema are that making love is too constructed, that having sex is too consumptive, and that fucking is too vulgar. I might or might not have a final stanza in which I picture the product of all that negation. I think that I have a good line on which to end each negative stanza: “Sex should stink,” a sort of chorus. Finally, I would not use that line on any positive stanzas. In fact, I might alternate negative and positive stanzas, using the same euphemism for one of each, i.e., “I don’t want to make love to you– I want to make love to you.” Anyway, I’d like to do something along these lines.

She was living in California with her husband Mike and her daughter Ylison when the big one hit. It was an auspicious night for an earthquake, being all hallows eve, though in the beginning, it appeared that it would be an average weeknight for the family of three. Mike was tapping away in the study on his latest novel, and Ylison was playing happily with some blocks on the floor of the living room. Jamie hummed a plaintive wistful melody as she puttered back and forth between kitchen and dining room, preparing the evening meal. She didn’t know why she chose that tune except perhaps that it was appropriate for the night. She was actually in an unusually cheerful mood. But like everything else about her life, that would change that night. It was eight o’clock, when she first heard the wailing. Thinking that something had happened to the baby, Jamie rushed into the living room to see what was the matter, but Ylison was cooing happily to herself on the floor while she nibbled on the corner of the orange bridge. Jamie listened carefully, but the sound was gone. Thinking that the wind had made the sound, or perhaps one of the neighbors’ dogs, she went back into the kitchen, to finish preparing dinner.

“Come and get it,” she called out peeking around the door of the study to see Mike sleeping over his work. Smiling, she entered the room to wake him. Now that he was out of the Navy, it seemed like Mike slept more than ever, and in the oddest places. She looked over his head at the neglected screen. The words seemed to leap out at her.

The darkest wind howls in the soul

At night when slumber hides our thoughts.

And evil from our inner core

Corrupts our sleep with dread.

Then the demons of our hidden self

Vie with the tatters of our shame,

And wrest from us our brightest mores

Until we wake to fight again.

“Wake up! It’s time for dinner, Mike.” She shook his shoulder till finally he c out his arms, yawned, and woke. On their way back into the kitchen, she picked up Ylison and placed her in the high chair.

Ask they were eating, Jamie’s mind turned back to the shriek she had heard earlier. When she asked Mike, he said he had heard nothing, which was not surprising considering the state in which she had found him. Once again she dismissed it as some naturally caused disturbance. She and Mike talked about his latest book, and her new class of students until they finished dinner. Mike slipped back off into his study, purportedly to finish working on his novel, but probably to finish working on his nap. Ylison continued to distribute what was left of her food in a ragged circle on the floor around her high chair. As Jamie was walking back into the kitchen with the dinner dishes, it came again. Longer this time, It indeed sounded like a child crying inconsolably. Jamie dropped the dishes. The sound seemed to penetrate to her very soul, laying bare all of her most feared secrets, those she kept even from herself. The crash brought her back from eternity, and the wail cut off abruptly, leaving her as shattered as the plates on the floor without knowing quite why. She bent down and began to pick up the larger pieces and tried to figure out what was happening to her. Was she perhaps going crazy? She didn’t think so. Besides, you were never supposed to think you were going crazy if you really were. Unsettled, she carried the larger pieces to the trash can, and then returned to the scene with a broom and dustpan from the pantry. As she deposited the last of the shattered china in the wastebasket, the first tremor began to shake the house.

For a split second she thought she really had gone crazy as the house shook in silence, Then suddenly cacophony ensued as Mike rushed in from the study, grabbing Ylison from the high chair, Together they rushed back through the living room and down the stairs into the basement. They huddled together in the cramped space as the world fell apart around them. Ylison cried and cried, and could not be stopped. Mike held her and rocked back and forth on the concrete floor. It seemed like days, though it was only hours, before the shaking finally stopped. It was the worst earthquake that Jamie had ever been through. Little did she know it was the worst earthquake since the continents were formed. When they finally left the basement, little was left of their once proud home except a single corner beam standing resolutely upright in a world of wayward angles. The portable radio Mike had retrieved from the basement was broadcasting emergency shelter areas. After figuring out which one was closest, and that the car would not take them there, they headed out at a brisk walk. As more and more people came out of their homes, the suburban street began to be quite crowded, and suddenly, without knowing how, Jamie was separated from Mike and Ylison. She looked around trying to find them, but the press of the crowd drove her inexorably forward. Finally she gave up, knowing that they would meet up again at the shelter.

The shelter was a huge concrete and steel structure built in the 1950’s as a bomb shelter. Inside, it seemed roomy despite the rising number of occupants, and appeared to have been someone’s house. Jamie got a cup of coffee from the pots in the dining room, and went into the living room to try and find a place to sit and wait for Mike to show up with the kids. Eventually, she was able to procure a recently vacated seat on one of the several couches. Sitting next to her was a large man with a ragged if full mustache and a Eurospanish face. He seemed better informed than most of the milling crowd, both as to the world situation, and as to that of the shelter itself. When she spoke to him she found out that he was the house’s owner, and had offered it to the government temporarily as a shelter.

She talked to him for several hours discussing everything from current politics, to religion, to ways to feed the incredible crowd of people. Suddenly in the middle of their conversation, he stood up and shouted out in a voice that carried above the sounds of the milling crowd,

“NOW.” He immediately sat back down and resumed their conversation saying, “Sorry for the interruption my dear lady, but I had some urgent business I needed my associates to take care of for me. You were, I believe, giving me your recipe for crumb cake?”

“Well yes, I was, but what is happening? Everyone seems to have gotten quiet all of a sudden.” It was true. The formerly boisterous crowd was now murmuring ominously, and the air was charged with sudden tension. It was then that Jamie noticed that the front door was now closed.

“Ah, yes, that was what I was signaling to my associates. I do not want my house completely overrun, so I had them shut the doors to keep out any more people. Once the crowd realizes their good fortune in having this place to themselves, they’ll be back to their boisterous selves.” Jamie turned pale.

“But, my husband and daughter are still out there!”

“Well, I’m sorry for that, but I really can’t make an exception for you. If I reopen the doors the whole mob will come pouring back in here with twice the force that they were before. I really can’t have that. I’m sure your family will be safe at the next shelter.”

“Well I’m not sure. If you can’t let them in then simply let me out, and I’ll catch up with them at the next shelter.” Jamie was starting to be really worried.

“I’d like to do that, I really would, but if I let you out, the government won’t believe in my sincerity when I demand an extremely high ransom for the people in this house, namely, the abatement of some of the irrational policies you and I were just discussing as well as a small fortune in gems for myself. I just couldn’t let them think that I have a soft heart and might be persuaded to let some people out. My associates have already made the necessary phone calls, and there are probably news helicopters outside already.” His eyes pierced her with a look of calculated honesty.

“Please,” she begged him, grasping his hand and tugging futiley, “Let me go. I’ve got to make sure my baby is alright.”

“Cease this outrageous pleading, Madame. The only way you will leave before the government has met our demands is the same way as the others, in a body bag.” In desperation, Jamie threw the one weapon she thought she might have against him. The knowledge of the plan he had just told her.

“I’ll tell the rest of the people here what you’re doing. You can’t kill everyone. They crowd will overpower you and then we’ll all escape.”

“Doubtful dear. First because I have agents scattered throughout the crowd, ready to crush any such suggestion, and second because you have just doomed yourself to be the first person to die.” He made an almost imperceptible motion with his free hand, while using his other to grasp one of her hands so hard that she could not even cry out. Suddenly, out of the crowd, a young girl of 18 or 19 appeared. He turned to her and told her to take Jamie down to the bathroom and kill her. They would keep the body there until they needed their first example for the government negotiators.