Monday, October 17, 2011

On the Side of the Crow Redux

At the beginning of October my book of loosely connected prose poems, On the Side of the Crow, was released here in the UK by Parthian Books.  

Oddly enough, considering the current occupation of Wall Street, a narrative thread running through a number of the poems in this volume contains the character of Mae Sistore - a mysterious revolutionary who was, perhaps, the catalyst for a silent revolution. Throughout the book, people are crowding into the streets of capitals across America - without signs, without slogans.  An occupation of silence.  

No one seems to know what they want. No one in authority, that is. 

I wrote the initial draft of Crow in 1994, in Des Moines, Iowa.  When I revised it in Sacramento, California, in the summer of 2001, the Mae Sistore character appeared and demanded to be let into the volume, along with her strange, silent revolution.  She could have been my antidote to the frustration I felt over the complacency that had settled over America during the Nineties.  As Mike McDonough said in Coldfront Magazine about the Mae Sistore character, she is “a mysterious, goddess-like underground radical hiding from the FBI. Though incognito, she has inspired a huge gathering of protesters protesting nothing.  TV pictures are beamed worldwide, but each person must find out the meaning of this protest for themselves.”

Of course, they weren't protesting 'nothing'.  Back then, I imagined a movement of silence because I felt the issues were so complex, on such a vast scale, that any media-friendly slogan or sound-bite could easily be appropriated and re-packaged for consumer consumption - and so ignored.  A massive vigil of silence seemed more powerful than any slogan I could come up with.  

Hanging Loose Press, 2006
 On the Side of the Crow was eventually published in the United States by Hanging Loose Press in 2006.  

The original intention behind the book was for it to be like a walk through a gallery - but a moving gallery, a gallery without walls, a gallery of stories rising from the faces I passed every day on the street.  So each individual piece in the book echoes a work of visual art. 

When I finished the book I called these pieces prose poems. Some of them could easily fit into the category of flash fiction.  Some might even label them ekphrastic poems (Ekphrasis: a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art).  You can call them whatever you want. They are what they are.

A Joseph Cornell box is less a box and more of a window, I think.  

 Below are four sections from the book.  

Mandala Depicting the Secret Life of Worms

Some say worms are able to rise with evaporating water.  It happens with frogs, toads, puppet heads, horse hooves, shark teeth, and fish, why not worms?  I've seen fish swim out of the rain, flop onto the streets of a Florida marsh town, and die.  No time for even one question.  

I say worms are able to rise into the sky with the ghost of water.  They ascend through the bitter caverns of chicory weed stems, past the shadow-wash of sycamore leaves, into skies thick with the gaunt drunk faces of those who refuse to enter the afterlife because they're afraid it's just like this world - more empty labor. The refuseniks of heaven huddle in groups, wait for pieces of the world they came from to rise up into their hands on the invisible wings of evaporating water.  Frogs, worms, fingernails, fish.  If they're lucky, an occasional bottle of gin.

Some say worms sleep through it all, victims of chance, pure bait.  I say worms created hunger in the clouds and endlessly sacrifice themselves to their creation.   

The worms freefall through transparent mouths, ride the rain down, beat against lonely umbrellas, tumble past faces wincing in the mudwater spray of car tires, hang over petal-cups of new blossoms, stretch long on macadam.  Their bodies glisten over the thirst-driven world.

How many times can a worm rise, drop, rise again?  Some say there's a worm who's been riding the waterwheel since before lightning struck emptiness.  They call that worm "Intelligence Arising From Appetite."  I say that worm is your mother, your Uncle Lester watching TV, your next door neighbor bending over - just this minute - poking a worm stretched out on the sidewalk after the first warm rain, steam rising from the pavement around his shoes.

Violet Skies the Night before Fall's Victory:
  Junk Sculpture

There's a ceiling of blue-cloud in the first sun-gone minutes.  The blue deepens.  Eddie Slivic sits on a torn couch, looks over his junkyard.  Rusted washers, dryers; a sea of cars without teeth, eyes, feet.  Violet furrows darken above the humid air.  Through the violet, the dim pale blue of the moon.

Eddie looks up at the moon, hears Dick Carver's horse somewhere out in the sea of cars, munching something.  "What that fucking horse finds to eat out there is beyond me."  He gets up, goes into the kitchen, brings a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses back to the couch.  Every time Dick comes looking for his skeleton-horse he sits on Eddie's porch all night, talking and drinking.  When he's drunk enough to cry, the old man looks out over Eddie's junk and shouts, "A holy view!  A magnificent view!"  Then he turns to Eddie and says, "It's true.  You'll see it soon enough.  All the failed, fucked up things we've done with our lives become magnificent when taken whole."   

Eddie hates tears.  Doesn't know what to do around them.   No one's ever told him he doesn't have to do anything.  "It's an epic created by this flesh!" Dick sometimes shouts.  "Magnificent love lost!  Magnificent impatience!  Magnificent wrecked marriages!  Magnificent scattered, angry children!" 

Dick drives his pickup into Eddie Slivic's yard, stops.  Eddie smiles, raises the bottle with one hand, holds up two glasses with the other. 

In the morning the air is sharp as sun on water.

Driftwood in Moonlight: 
Articles from The New York Times Spliced Into
A Sumi-e Brush Painting 
Mae Sistore stands on the beach, staring at a long white twist of driftwood.  She is saying: "...body by white salt and silence...body by moon tide and silence...body by wind, body by water..."

All these years working for something to move, to change - and now - suddenly - today - seeing the huge crowds on television, gathering in front of every state capitol, surrounding banks, schools, blocking intersections, all silent, some smiling, arms linked.  It was beyond anything she’d ever imagined.  And it had nothing to do with her.

She is saying:  "...body by sharp sand and turmoil...body by sun-scorch and turmoil... body by wind, body by water..."

She looks beyond the bleached sweep of the driftwood limb, at the ghost crabs searching the night coast for food.  Moon reflected off wood blinds the crabs, penetrates their shells, illuminates their soft whispery meat. 

She is saying:  "...body by wind-wheel and sorrow...body by moon-funnel and laughter...body by wind, body by water..."

A coiled string of seaweed lifts, reborn.  A sand breeze blows through its dry brown body and it moves like a tumbleweed along the moonlit rise of dunes, following the imprints of a huge crab.  It catches up to the crab, veils him, marries him, and they move off together, back down to the rhythm-black water. 

She repeats the chant:  "...body by white salt and silence...body by moon tide and silence...body by wind, body by water..." 

Seaweed trails the crab, follows him into his hole.  Tomorrow morning someone will look at the swish and arc the seaweed made in the sand and think "snake."

 Sculpture of a Desert Town in the Manner Of
Giacometti's Dog

I stopped at The Desert Star Motel in Winnemucca.  They gave me a coupon for a free cocktail with dinner at the casino across the street.  Inside, a man in bright green shorts held a baby in his arms while he played the slots.
Outside, the white-hot sun.  Casting perfect right-angle doorframe shadows onto doors.  I walked off the main strip.  One block over, there was a residential street.  Palms in front yards.  Where all the casino workers lived, I guessed.  Behind the houses on the north side of the street was a field of burnt gold grass sloping up to the highway.  Gold hills beyond.  When the traffic died down, you could hear the sound of snakes moving through straw.   

A kid with a burnt, peeling face, wearing his shirt over his head like a hood, wandered up to me.  "Hey," he said, "you don't look like you're from around here."  I shook my head.   "You heading north?" he said. "I'm heading to the Rainbow Gathering in Idaho.  Greyhound wanted to take me through Salt Lake, but that's too far out of the way, so I jumped."  "I'm heading to Sacramento," I said.  "I just came through there," he said.  "Bad town.  They found some burnt heads in a trashcan.  It was in the papers."  I looked out at the hills, nodded.  "Well, have a good trip anyway," he said, and wandered off.  

A couple doors down, there was a little girl sitting on her front steps, staring into the hills.  "What's it like living here?" I said.  "It's alright," she said and shrugged.  "You gonna stay when you grow up?" I asked.  "Might."  The front window curtains caught the hot wind, blew back into the dark living room.  I didn't know what else to say.  I'm not good with kids.  She pointed at the hills.  "There's mountain lions up there," she said.  "Sometimes they come down, kill a dog."

That night, I turned off the air-conditioner, opened the windows.  Around 3 a.m. I woke. Two coyotes were prowling around the pool.  Their fur glistened blue.


In the UK, the book is available through 

or from 


If you are in the United States and suddenly feel the urge to buy this book, thinking to yourself, “Holy crap! How could I have missed this book the first time around!  I didn’t realize something so…uh…interesting...was out there!  I need it NOW!" 

Order it from:

Don’t delay.  Operators are standing by.


In other news, my novel A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind was released in the United States & Canada at the beginning of October.

It is currently available at:

"What is at first unusual may be followed with legend. 'A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind' is a unique story of a small Belgian town who are pelted with dead fish by the wind. As the town deals with its dead fish problem, the people ponder what it means. Blending in folk legend of small European towns and the effect it will have on their lives, 'A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind' is a moving and thoughtful read, very much recommended."

Midwest Book Review

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