Archives for January 2015

Old Men

Apse Mosaic

I’ve already abused y’all with this poem, I fear. But since this blog is all that is likely to endure after I am gone (that, and maybe a tombstone with an vulgar inscription), I’m posting it here as well.

The hoary hymn Abide With Me laments
“Change and decay in all around I see”
But when gray hair examines its intents
It finds it sings the line with not a little glee

For when a man has reached a certain age
He sees his world crumble, and turns grim
And starts to long, before he leaves the stage
To have the thing he’s built interred with him

He regards a son who will not mind him
A polis bent, and with a different face
A newer tune, played loudly to remind him
That no one cares to praise or take his place

So why not raze the walls and burn the roof?
Why pass it on to those who love it not?
Let waters in, let chaos be the proof
That men should not forget what they forgot

Against all this stands Clement’s church in Rome
Its apse all canopied by Christ the vine
Its tendrils climb to our eternal home
And take root in the cross, both His and thine

But down below the apse, below the floor
There stands a church built up in centuries past
And that one rests upon one made before
The Christ arrived to play the first and last

And for that church, this revelation:
What no Minervan priest suspected
Both faith and church would prove foundation
For some new house of God, erected

on the stones of that uncertain faith
The work of some old man who rued his end
And longed to make the solid world a wraith
Because he could not make God’s Providence his friend.

The pigshit at the end of the rainbow.


Of late, I have been trying to exercise three times a week. The result is that today, I feel so depleted and unable to even summon the will to type that I am considering giving up drinking, or at least taking up cocaine. Something.

At any rate, Robert Stone died a few days ago, and I’m blaming exercise for my delay in posting about it. A while back, the estimable Duffer and I had a thoroughly enjoyable exchange about faith as depicted in a section she sent me from Stone’s Children of Light. I can’t find the exchange, but I seem to remember it coming down to earthly life being either endless pigshit or divine torment. And hey, looky here.

Thanks, Robert Stone. Here’s a bit from a remembrance at The New Yorker.

The trajectory of his childhood and youth might have been invented (and exploited) by Horatio Alger; Stone himself had little to say about it. There’s no self-made triumphalism in his work. Is it odd or appropriate that someone who began so far out on society’s fringes should have made such central addresses to American aspiration and its various disappointments? Time served in that Catholic orphanage and the Marist high school from which he was expelled would certainly have imprinted something upon him; Marist theology remains a pole of his moral universe, explicitly in the short story “Miserere,” and more subtly elsewhere. A Catholic notion of redemption retained some potency for him, and he was not above an occasional naturalistic deployment of conventional religious imagery (as in the glorious finish of “A Flag for Sunrise”). But nothing in his work is taken for granted or handed to anyone by a higher power; any redemption must be existentially earned. Stone and his characters struggle with all received ideas at a very high level of intellectual honesty.

Stone’s life could be read as fulfillment of the American dream of which his work is so critical. Here’s an orphan from Brooklyn who used our institutions (he gave most credit to the Navy) to bootstrap himself to leonine status, writing for the best publications and teaching in the most élite institutions. His fifty-five-year marriage to the wise and forbearing Janice Stone has got to be one of the most successful in all literary history. Still, Stone never took anything for granted, in life or in art. The dark side of American dreaming always focussed his attention; a Stone character has to take a long walk through the valley of the shadow in order to earn a return to the light…

In the dark watches of the night when I’m looking for some way to justify having spent my whole life trying to make up stories and write them down, it’s usually one of Stone’s books I’ll pull off the shelf, meaning to comfort myself with just a few favorite passages. A day or so later, when I find I haven’t been able to resist reading the whole thing, backward and forward and all the way through, I will finally close it and put it away, thinking, Right, that’s it; that was it all along—the thing that’s still worth trying for.


Story 1

The Audition

Roxanne was a character in a story but she was also a real person and she sometimes felt confused about which was which. Her boyfriend Tom was a poet who wrote sonnets on demand for a greeting card company called Sonnets on Demand. Roxanne and Tom had met seven months earlier when Tom had left his phone in a bathroom stall in the men’s restroom at the Davenport Hotel and Roxanne, very drunk and fairly disoriented, had mistakenly entered the wrong restroom to pee, found the phone — which looked exactly like hers — sitting there on top of the stainless steel toilet paper dispenser, and had absent-mindedly slipped it into her purse. She had been surprised to find the extra phone in her purse the next morning, and intrigued by the half-written Elizabethan sonnet that appeared on the screen when she turned it on.

But that’s another story for another day. Right now Roxanne was lying in bed next to Tom, plagued by insomnia, staring at the ceiling as insomniacs so often do, and trying to find a foothold somewhere in the chaos of her swirling thoughts.

Okay, fine.

Screen Shot 2015-01-13 at 1.39.42 PMIt seems pretty clear that y’all have given up on this whole group-blog thing since I showed up. So I’m just gonna post links to things I like. This in particular restored my faith in the written word.

The central act of Christian worship


Los Angeles scarecrow


Bobbed red wig? Check. Enormous breast implants on a stick-thin figure? Check. High-heeled purple boots? Check. Oversized pink handbag? Check.

Music for 2015, Part 1

So I got into the car this morning and made a pleasant discovery: my CD player contained Over the Rhine’s Blood Oranges in the Snow. A late, Christmasy, Christmas present, courtesy of Love Good Music, the CD-of-the-month club that The Wife signed up for in support of the splendiferous Alanna-Marie Boudreau. (Incidentally, Ms. Boudreau recently did her own Christmasy recording, a very fine version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which is easily the best thing on this compilation. And while we’re on the subject of Love Good Music and Christmas, Rebecca Roubion’s Christmas Lights grew on me something fierce, especially this piece of pop confectionary. I dunno; maybe it’s because my daughter sings along.) The OTR album was unsurprisingly solid, coming at Christmas in a mostly glancing, backgroundy way. A guy looking at a Christmas tree and recalling lost innocence (of both the childhood and spiritual variety). A guy visiting his father’s grave on Christmas Eve. A couple driving to visit family. And the flat-out classic ditty above. Hooray for Over the Rhine! And bully for Love Good Music! Anyway, if you head over there, you can stream the album for free or some such. But you should totally buy it, too.



Resolutions should be painful
Otherwise they wouldn’t require you to be resolute, they’d only require acquiescence, like all the activities that lead to resolutions, you know, activities that are, shall we say, gainful
So that now your middle
Resembles a fiddle
Of the bass variety
And contra propriety
Announces your entrance into rooms before you’ve even entirely arrived
So that your wife starts in eyeing you like maybe she’s considering becoming unwived.
So you wait for January 1
To come and end your fun
And resolve to start slow so as not to overdo it
Because at your age, the thing about pain is you can’t always play, walk, run, or jog through it.
But far more discouraging than the next-day soreness that wracks you
Is the fact that your dog is so confused and upset by the sight of you getting down on the ground to attempt a sit-up that it goes and attacks you.

I love San Diego


New Year’s as Seen through Christmas

We drink, we get drunk, and we sleep
We rise up again and we keep
on repeating the feast and the fast
of year upon year, until at last
The gray in the hair makes its way to the brain
And our sons and our daughters do the whole thing again
And each generation passes on without knowing
Their reason for coming, their reason for going
Philosophers, poets, and prophets and sages
Have passed all their reasons on down through the ages
But none of their reasons have slowed down the gray
And none of their poems have stopped the decay
A new kind of wisdom and word was required
To bind up the flesh in which we’re all mired:
The infinite cycle got broke
A Boy stuck a stick in the spoke