Poem-A-Day: Joe Barnes

About twenty years ago, I took a road trip from Houston to Los Angeles, where I was teaching for part of the year every year. I made this road trip with an old friend from college. This was before cell phones were common among young people. We caravanned across the country, each of us driving alone, and what should have taken 26-28 hours took three ridiculous days. We got detoured by dust storms shortly before leaving New Mexico and ended up deep in Arizona, a paper booklet road atlas and a highlighter in hand, nearly stranded by fatigue (his) on a reservation before finding our way back to I-10. Remind me to tell you the rest of the story sometime; it’s absurd and hilarious and surreal.

About twenty years ago, the woman who was my husband’s girlfriend before me suddenly died. He considered taking off into the west, driving until his car ran out of gas, then setting up in whatever town he’d ended up in and starting over with a new identity. I’m so grateful he didn’t.

Longer than that ago, the year I graduated from college, I realized that I didn’t have a steady full-time job lined up yet, and for the first time in my life, I had the sense that I really could go anywhere and do anything and start my real adult life in any way I wanted to. A friend asked me to move to Vancouver with her. I thought about it. Then I decided not to, and she decided not to, and she moved to Los Angeles for graduate school, and I kept my seasonal teaching job out there for a few years longer until I came home and married my husband.

Somehow it seems like road trips often create this illusion of freedom, but more often than not that sense of freedom is just a vacation from our regular life, and really? Often, that’s enough.

I cannot say why I enjoy this poem so much, but oh my goodness, it’s fun.

***

HAPPINESS

That morning we headed West.
We had nothing better to do.

West was as good as East
Or South or, for that matter, North.

They were all elsewhere
and that morning was one of those days –
the light brisk as a nurse,
the air calf-skin to the touch,
the breeze absently shuffling leaves
like a card sharp between marks –
when elsewhere had to be glorious, too.

Time led us shambling across
a countryside indifferent
to our incompetence with maps.

Farms and small towns
shrugged as we passed.
The big cities didn’t even notice.
Suburbs noticed but pretended not to.
Suburbs can be that way.

We were never lost.
but never found, either,
except by a sun that teased us gently west
on a trail of shadows.

We ran out of gas and fought
over whom we should blame.
We decided on fate.

We got drunk and wrestled alligators.
We lost.

We pulled up at a clapboard church,
its steeple an angle or two shy of perpendicular,
and were baptized in the blood
of the risen Christ.

One of us fell in love
with a waitress at a diner.
Her nails were bitten to the bloody quick.
Her eyes were the color of a Golden Retriever’s.
She was friendly but engaged
to a local plumbing contractor.

Somewhere along the way
our adventure became a life.

We traded clothes, names, pasts,
then traded them back.
After a while we forgot
what belonged to whom.

We climbed a cliff
and listened for time, for space,
for the slow curve of the universe
where space and time meet,
for anything but ourselves
listening on a cliff,
the uncertain earth sliding,
like memory, underfoot.

We listened so hard, so long
we ceased to hear
and drove, deaf-struck by silence,
to our motel
and its mercy of noise.

The mountains neared.
They shimmered. They shone.
They bullied the sky aside
with sharp granite shoulders.

Beyond them, we knew,
lay the beginning of sea
and the end of the West.

We prayed for bad weather:
flash floods to wash away bridges,
freak snowfalls to trap us in our car,
dust storms to blind us
into immobility.

The weather stayed fair.

We grew tender with each other,
like guilty grown-up children do
with bewildered, dying parents,
like adulterers do with spouses
they are poised to deceive.

It was the man that had fallen
in love with the waitress
with the eyes of a Golden Retriever
who saved us.

“Why not North?” he asked,
his voice thick with corn chips.

(He had gained thirty pounds
since he had been spurned
in favor of the plumbing contractor.)

So North we went.

***

Joe Barnes’ poetry has appeared in five anthologies – TimeSlice, The Weight of Addition, Improbable Worlds, Untameable City, and Lineup – and in journals such as Bat City Review, Measure, and Illya’s Honey. Barnes is also a playwright. He lives in Houston, Texas.

 

 

 

 

 

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Observations on a Long Drive Through the Country

My family and I spent eight days driving around the US. Well, okay, not eight days entirely in the car. An eight-day vacation in which we drive over a thousand miles to visit my writing partner and friend Sarah’s family in Blacksburg for a few days and then drove over a thousand miles to get home again the next week. We took the opportunity to see a lot of the country we hadn’t been in before and stop in several major southern cities.

But over eight days, we drove about 2,500 miles and experienced (in a variety of ways) the following states: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Alabama, and some of them twice in different places. We actually stayed overnight in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Birmingham during our travels, each time arriving in the afternoon early enough to do some interesting stuff (if a little touristy sometimes).

Since my husband wanted to do all the driving, having so much time in the passenger seat of the car let me get a lot of mental work done on a short story I’m currently revising and a novel that’s in rewrites — which was awesome, by the way! — but it also gave me time to make a lot of observations about my immediate environment. So here are some of them, presented as objectively as possible, in no particular order beyond when the observations were made. (I kept a running list as we drove.)

Continue reading “Observations on a Long Drive Through the Country”

Fantasy Vacations

In what for me is something of an experimental form — though it’s common practice for some writers, perhaps — I decided to write a very short story on Twitter in a series of linked tweets. I let people be aware of it over on Facebook, and a compilation of said tweets was requested so it would be easier to follow. So here it is.

***

#1: That place in where you can go and play with legit . I suggested this to my husband. His response?

 

#1: He said, “I’m going to say this only once. Wolves are never safe to play with. Never.”

Not sure I’m buying it, though.

 

#2: Someplace relaxing and mild with beautiful flowers and warmish water to swim in, where I can wear caftans and…

 

#2: …pretend I’m living in a Soft Surroundings catalog.

His response: “Apparently their marketing works. No caftans.”

 

#3: So how about this? Let’s go someplace and live in a castle for a week. Drink tea. Have fancy dinners. Pretend I’m…

 

#3: …living at . I like this a lot. Does this make me terrible?

His response: “Um, servants. Who are you?”

 

#4: How about the Scottish Highlands?

His response: “No.”

Iceland? Him: “No.”

France? “The fastest nope that ever noped.”

 

#5: The wolves aren’t sounding so bad anymore, are they?

His response: *facepalm*

He’s so cute. 🙂

 

***

If you want to see more flash fiction like this in the future, but in Twitter-realtime (whatever that might mean), go on over there and follow me; my handle is @AngeliqueJamail. I don’t send out a lot of tweets, usually, so your feed won’t get flooded if you pile on.

 

 

 

National Poetry Month — Day 28

My friend Rick Lupert, whom I know from the years when I was teaching in Los Angeles in the late ’90s, writes wonderful, accessible, fun poetry which I enjoy so much. He once wrote me a poem, almost twenty years ago, that was so intentionally terrible it made me laugh so hard I cried. I copied it into a tiny journal where I recorded things that made me tremendously happy.

Today’s poem, “Somewhere Over Canada,” is from his forthcoming book Romancing the Blarney Stone, poems written in and on the way to and from Ireland, last summer.

 

***

 

Somewhere Over Canada

 

It is 7:30 in the morning and my eyes are
staging a revolution of closing hours.

I message Brendan to ask if he is awake
with a quick follow up telling him I am not.

They will not hold planes for tired people.
So if you wish to go to a place that is

different from the place you are in
you will need to defer to the schedules

of others. Behind me they discuss
the size of water bottles. This is a topic

I have nothing to add to. They say this
flight is nonstop but I can’t imagine

any other kind.

 

***

 

Rick Lupert has been involved with L.A. poetry since 1990. He is the recipient of the 2014 Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center Distinguished Service Award and was a co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets for two years. He created the Poetry Super Highway ( http://poetrysuperhighway.com/ ) and hosted the weekly Cobalt Cafe reading for almost twenty-one years. His first spoken word album, “Rick Lupert Live and Dead” featuring twenty-five studio and live tracks, was released in March, 2016. He’s authored nineteen collections of poetry, including Professor Clown on Parade, Romancing the Blarney Stone (both forthcoming from Rothco Press in May, 2016), Making Love to the 50 Foot Woman (Rothco Press, May 2015), The Gettysburg Undress and Nothing in New England is New, and edited the anthologies Ekphrastia Gone Wild, A Poet’s Haggadah and the noir anthology The Night Goes on All Night. He also writes and draws (with Brendan Constantine) the daily web comic Cat and Banana. He is regularly featured at venues throughout Southern California.

 

 

National Poetry Month — Day 12

I enjoy traveling, most of the time. Rather, I enjoy being on vacation, most of the time. I enjoy experiencing new places. I love it, actually, and wish I did it a lot more often, and the older I get, the more I realize that I wasted a lot of time in my youth not going to other places.

The problem, of course, has to do with the transportation part of things. It’s a fairly complex problem in that it has many layers. But that’s a story about a dilemma for another day.

One thing I know is that I need to start seeing other places — places which are new to me — soon. For my birthday, I put on my wish list:

  • a passport (because the last time I left the country, when I was in college, all you needed was a birth certificate)
  • a trip to someplace where I could have an adventure
  • an adventure worth taking pictures of

I’m making my summer plans now.

One place I will probably not get to this year — but which I would love love love to see — is France. Paris in particular. Since I was little, the place has always held a fascination for me, perhaps because my mother is part French. Le français was the first foreign language I ever had enough real working knowledge of to be practical and useful. I began learning it in earnest, starting with the ad copy on the backs of cereal boxes at breakfast — on a trip to a village near Montréal when I was twelve. Things bloomed from there, and by eleventh grade I was reading Les Misérables in its original and acting in a short French play for academic competitions.

I am aggrieved to say that after a couple of decade with little practice, I now need help to translate with any quick accuracy. Some days it feels I have wasted whole swaths of my life.

Here is the final installment in the “poems inspired by place” series by Adam Holt. I hope you’ve been enjoying these as much as I have. (You can see the first one and the second one here.)

What places have inspired you? I’d love to know about them. Leave your thoughts — including a short poem about them, if you wish — in the comments below.

 

***

 

Tour Eiffel: Four Images, Six Lines (Paris, 2013)

 

A blackboned skeleton dreams of molten blood.
Demigod of a godless age.
Last great structure before reason’s decline.

Misappropriated alien beacon,
would skin warm your iconic form?
You expose your bones and leave us to conjure flesh.

 

***

 

 

More Unbelievable SkyMall Merch

You might remember my post last summer about how SkyMall had turned my weird air travel ritual from interesting to bizarre. The gist of it was that the SkyMall catalog, which used to be filled with arguably desirable luxury goods geared toward conspicuous consumption, is now filled with items you can’t imagine someone actually purchasing. (Remember carlashes? Ah, good times.)

Well, I’m traveling again this summer and see that SkyMall has presented us with some new options, in case we have so much money we’ve grown bored with setting it on fire and need some other way to waste it.

The usual complement of luxury watch display cases and of weight loss and hair growth miracles are still there, of course. And they now offer a stress-relieving head massager from Gadget Universe which resembles a store-bought-Hallowe’en-costume-quality-looking version of a helmet that’s part Norse mythology and part Tron.

Somawave Helmet
You should see this when it’s on someone’s head.

The Somawave Helmet is “like having thousands of tiny fingers stimulate your scalp,” apparently, and should not be used while operating heavy machinery, due to its “euphoria inducing waves” which may produce “trance-like states of consciousness.”  Can’t wait for that.

If you have a squirrel fetish — and there’s a phrase I never thought I would write — you can celebrate it with the Squirrel Throw Blanket and Pillow from Wireless.  I think the pictures of these speak for themselves.

Okay, this one might almost be kind of cute.
Okay, this one might almost be kind of cute.

 

But not this one.
But not this one.

You can also order a shirt which announces, “I have reason to believe the squirrels are mocking me.” Perhaps they are. Perhaps it’s because of the resin Mounted Squirrel Head hanging in your den.

resin mounted squirrel

I have never understood the fascination with giant t-shirts (in and of themselves something I won’t be posting about for Fashion Fridays) printed with someone else’s body. And by “someone else,” I actually mean a cartoon caricature of a Barbie doll. What On Earth now offers shirts which profess to the world that you would be a biker badass if you only had the badassness to do it.

faux tattoo men's

 

 

faux tattoo women's

 

You can also proclaim your devotion to your favorite sports teams while protecting your scalp from sunburn with a Flair Hair Visor.

Yup, this is a real thing.
Yup, this is a real thing.

The “realistic spikes” of “faux polyester hair” come in a variety of colors.

If your style isn’t so hardcore, you can get really big t-shirts proclaiming your…um…forbidden tastes.

I weep for humanity.
I weep for humanity.

If you can’t stand to put yourself in something ridiculous but have no such compunctions about your dog, try these chew toys.

lips

 

 

tongue

 

'stache

 

No trip into the SkyMall catalog would be complete without some really creepy yard statues. I offer you, from Toscano, “Catch of the Day,”

This might freak out your neighbors.
This might freak out your neighbors.

“Bigfoot, the Garden Yeti,”

Guaranteed to make your in-laws wonder about you.

and “The Zombie of Montclaire Moors.”

Guaranteed to freak out your kids.
Guaranteed to freak out your kids.

Finally, for those of us who don’t like yucky things, we can live out our Star Trek fantasies with the Nano-UV, “the most powerful disinfection scanner on the market.”

anti-germ wand in the kitchen

Wave it over your hotel bed and your food to “protect yourself and your loved ones from harmful microorganisms.”

anti-germ wand in the hotel room

No, really. Do it. Do it now.

And if you just can’t stand cleaning up after your cat — and yet firmly insist on bringing a cat into your home anyway — there’s this.

cat potty training

The Litter Kwitter 3-Step Cat Toilet Training System. Because potty training a kid just isn’t fun, exciting, or challenging enough.

Be well, everyone. Safe travels.