* (Hum)An Algebra with Don Bogen

Anything That Happens – Don Bogen

Anything that happens is too fast to see
But I watched it – there are pictures in the album
Less than a second’s light fixed in chemicals
Little boxes under a vinyl sheet gone cloudy now
What are these dyes that fade at the surface
That child face you wear still under your skin
Whenever I look nothing changes
A photo gives the residue of a lost moment
It claws at memory like a drowning swimmer
Who will not be saved

* insert sound of cellophane here *
* insert sound of cellophane here *

Just finished reading Don Bogen’s book An Algebra, a collection consisting primarily of extended lyric sequences counterpointed by shorter lyrics like the one above.

The poem above speaks to the heart of the collection – Bogen presents a lyrical exploration of personal history, a concept that would be daunting if it weren’t rooted in a sense of self.  You can hear a real voice puzzling over That child face you wear still under your skin.

Last month I spoke about how cemeteries and thrift stores are alike in that they are charged with human connection, human lives passing each other in stone and aisle.  Reading the next poem, I marveled at Bogen’s ability to delve into that other charged human place – the yard sale – and dig out of it a real sense of mortality.

The way things change when we get rid of them, the way we change getting rid of them, what passes idly through the hands on a Saturday morning – all of it part of the history of who we were.

* chair's the dresser! *
* chair’s the dresser! *

Wants – Don Bogen

There’s nothing anyone could want
A yard sale where the private past is suddenly on display
Brought up from storage, dazed and blinking
Drugstore lamps, dessert glasses, AM clock radio
The two-speed bicycle you stripped down over the years
Worth more if it still had its tank, fins, and handlebar streamers
What moves and what doesn’t – you can’t sell it all
On card tables old desires transpose into objets d’art and junk
The basement empties like the hold of a freighter
So you can get away


Happy awaying!


* summer dancing with Alice Fulton

* Jimmy being told they are out of donuts *
* Jimmy being told they are out of donuts *

At the start of summer we started an old movie kick sparked by Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much.  James Stewart is a champ in it.

Since then, we’ve done more Hitchcock as well as a few others.  The most surprising was Singin’ in the Rain – straightforward joy and spirit (with a few dance montages out of a really bad acid trip!).

* word to your soft shoe *
* word to your soft shoe *

It made me think of me and Ani’s first summer together.  We took a waltz class with her parents.  Evenings of following each other’s moves and learning something new together made summer feel like spring – in spirit at least.

The waltz became a part of our history that summer.

Alice Fulton’s poem below explores some of the history of the waltz – the real history, what it has meant to people, what all moves between people when they dance.


The Orthodox Waltz – Alice Fulton

Courtship, the seamless mesh
under taffeta havocs
of hoop skirt, smoke

hoops from his Lucky Strikes
her words jumped through.
Women dancing had the harder part,

she’d heard, because they must
dance backward.
He kept his ear pressed

like a safecracker’s
stethoscope against
her head, kept his

recombinant endearments
tumbling toward a click.
The lachrymose music,

his clasp and lust-
spiel, displaced her
mother’s proverbs.  How nimble

they were, those girls
gliding by on dollies.
What had her mother said

that sounded wise?  Was it
“Women dancing must be agile
as refugees with jewels

tied to their thighs?”


Happy dancing!


* glimpsing fireflies with Denise Levertov

There’s something about poetry – writing and reading it – that develops your ability to deal with the ephemeral, the fleeting, your ability to deal with almost’s.

You can work on a poem for years and still only almost say it.  Or you can read The Wasteland a few times and still only almost get it.  Yet, if it’s good, that almost is worth it.

It’s akin to pointing out fireflies: those little buggers will spark for a second in the grass – but by the time you elbow the person next to you to point them out, the light’s gone and you are left looking out into dark grass until another one lights up.

That glimpse of light – and how it passes onto another – is what I believe the poem below by Denise Levertov to be about.  There is what you see and what you would like others to see – both in writing and in life.

* no, quick, look *
* no, quick, look *

The Secret – Denise Levertov

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line.  They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was.  No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem.  I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, til death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other

in other
happenings.  And for
wanting to know it,

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.


Happy almosting!


* jamming with Yosano Akiko

Around the same time that I read Takuboku Ishikawa (see last week’s post), I also delved into the work of Yosano Akiko – famed tanka poet and friend to Ishikawa.

I was so taken up by her work that I couldn’t help but respond to her in several tanka.  Here’s one:

she speaks of the River of Stars
outside her window
and I cannot
but listen
on the other side


* Miya Masaoka *
* Miya Masaoka *

In the selections below, Akiko refers to an instrument called a koto (see photo).  I got to hear someone play one of these in the evenings while I waited for my train back when I worked in New York City.  Like most stringed instruments, its power is derived from tension.  When Akiko talks of destroying one with an ax, it is more than a metaphor – it is music.


from River of Stars – Yosano Akiko

While mother begins
chanting a deathbed sutra,
beside her, the
tiny feet of her infant,
oh so beautiful to see.


From her shoulder,
falling over the sutra,
a strand of unruly hair.
A lovely girl and a monk.
The burden of early spring.


The gods wish it so:
a life ends with a shatter –
with my great broadax
I demolish my koto.
Oh, listen to that sound!


And now you must ask
whether I’ve written new songs.
I am the mythic
koto with twenty-five strings,
but without a bridge for sound.


Happy sounding!


* photo found here.