Wednesday, May 30, 2012

train dreams

A few posts down I mentioned that the Pulitzer did not award a fiction winner this year. One of the worthy candidates, Denis Johnson, penned Train Dreams, a novella I've been meaning to praise. It is a stream of perfect sentences. This is an evocative but quiet tale of Robert Granier, a day laborer in the early 20th century American West. In 116 pages, I believed every creek, bit of floral and fauna, the plight of loggers and bridge builders, and wayward animals or wolf men and women were all part of a world I knew. I've read it twice in two weeks. The tricky thing about this novella being packed with perfect sentences is that it's impossible to pull favorite passages. I would want to type up the whole thing. Without the context of an entire chapter how could you know that, "The dog no longer trembled," as a closing sentence shook me. Instead, here is a glowing review in The New York Times that shares my sentiments. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


“After a while I murmured to Picasso that I liked his portrait of Gertrude Stein. Yes, he said, everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will, he said.” 

I got this gem from E. L. Doctorow's lecture "Don't Call It Historical" in which he argues the definition of a novel and that it diminishes one to be defined as historical. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

new orleans botanical gardens

Ferns, succulents, herbs, cacti, roses, and one yellow snake.

Friday, May 4, 2012

abandoned six flags

In 2005, the park was closed in preparation for Hurricane Katrina. It never reopened after. Read more about it here and check out more of the photos I pulled these shots from here. Or, come visit and we can jump the gates. While I find great beauty in ruin, I'd rather be able to ride the Zydeco coaster or start drinking cokes again so I could save the can-coupons for weekend thrills.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Here's a snap of my two brothers playing pool last week in the shop of our family's  shutter business. I wish I could have been there. Nothing like losing to the boys, drinking beer in May, and the smell of lumber.

philip levine

I found the poems of Philip Levine in an introductory poetry class in college. The first that follows, Belle Isle-1949, hit all of my soft spots. Suddenly the Detroit River could have been the Alabama River and this gets to the core of what writing can do but particularly poetry. It can conjure beauty out of a strange adventure, the things that scare us, and simply trying to have a good time in one of America's forgotten cities. The second poem, Our Valley, is in a beautiful collection I just picked up called, News of the World. You'll see from both of the poems below that Levine is a poet concerned with atmosphere, the senses, and desiring the natural world but not being able to contain it.

"Belle Isle, 1949"

We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles, melted snow.
I remember going under hand in hand
with a Polish high school girl
I'd never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out on the starless waters
towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the grey coarse beach we didn't dare
fall on, the damp pile of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

"Our Valley"

We don't see the ocean, not ever, but in July and August 
when the worst heat seems to rise from the hard clay
of this valley, you could be walking through a fig orchard
when suddenly the wind cools and for a moment
you get a whiff of salt, and in that moment you can almost
believe something is waiting beyond the Pacheco Pass,
something massive, irrational, and so powerful even
the mountains that rise east of here have no word for it.

You probably think I'm nuts saying the mountains
have no word for ocean, but if you live here
you begin to believe they know everything.
They maintain that huge silence we think of as divine,
a silence that grows in autumn when snow falls
slowly between the pines and the wind dies
to less than a whisper and you can barely catch
your breath because you're thrilled and terrified.

You have to remember this isn't your land.
It belongs to no one, like the sea you once lived beside
and thought was yours. Remember the small boats
that bobbed out as the waves rode in, and the men
who carved a living from it only to find themselves
carved down to nothing. Now you say this is home,
so go ahead, worship the mountains as they dissolve in dust,
wait on the wind, catch a scent of salt, call it our life.