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Oath and Abundance

visitationFor Elizabeth, on her birthday

Elisheba, young Aaron’s wife, saw
The scorching sun and torrid sand
On Israel’s treck avow no shadow
Nor soothe the azure sky – such land
Where all the colors drained from Eden
And drowns a rainbow’s hope for heaven…
The voided desert shades refuse,
In justice, spectrum’s seven hues.

Elizabeth, though, aging wife to
Old Zachariah, sits and rests
And waits to see her promised guests
Descend the everlasting hills now
From heaven’s blue – her mantled earth,
An advocate for mercy’s birth.

Three Sonnets

I. Word House
Where Amherst’s hermitess had bitten
The Puritan tongue with reproof,
Spokane now speaks such song, begotten
As rain, pronounced as raftered roof,
Refined as wine in cooling cellars.
What whirrs there through the threshold’s pillars?
It sounds to be a potter’s lathe
That spits out earthen sparks to bathe
The night with reason: words are shelter
For faith which palates reach with speech
Like star to planet, wave to beach.
The mystery of diction’s altar:
In stormy house, a world of calm –
In sonnet’s hovel, castled psalm.

II. Beard Nest
A formal nudity is shameless
Because the body knows what lust
Denies to serve: the many nameless
Conspiracies of love that nest
Like birds within the beard of Jesus.
Will darkened theaters cease to please us
(More known than knowing) just because
The plight of Job excites applause
For pleasure’s picture show? With Satan,
The naked frame reveals; but beer
Is found as near to elbow’s cheer
As language brewing roots in Latin –
And here, a man and woman found
A common tongue on common ground.

III. Water Board
The sifting surf is sorting shingles
Upon the beach. The clashing sounds
Of armies, ignorant as angels,
Is drowned as holy rage compounds
The wave that builds. But you know, fuck it.
A man can throw up in a bucket –
So justice gains what mercy lost –
A man can take his licks on a post –
So blood and history are bonded
As Adam waxes up his board
Now bounden where he lay, a lord
At play. Sea-savaged and up-ended,
He’s framed by grace – and tries to name
Its aspect ratio to fame.

“Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it …”


It’s the birthday of the man who asked, “What does a sane man do in an insane society?”: American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright Joseph Heller (books by this author), born in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. He didn’t begin any story until he had the first and last lines in his head, and the idea for Catch-22 came about after he thought of an opening: “It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, ‘Someone’ fell madly in love with him.” He didn’t have the character’s name — Yossarian — yet, but the story began to unspool from that first line. “It got me so excited,” Heller wrote in the Paris Review, “that I did what the cliché says you’re supposed to do: I jumped out of bed and paced the floor. That morning I went to my job at the advertising agency and wrote out the first chapter in longhand. … One year later, after much planning, I began chapter two.”

His agent started sending Catch-22 — called Catch-18 at the time — to publishers in 1953, when Heller was about a third of the way through with it. Simon and Schuster paid him $750 up front, with another $750 to be paid upon completion. Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it in 1961. They changed Catch-18 to Catch-22 to avoid confusion with Leon Uris’s new book Mila 18, and the title has entered the lexicon as a description of an unsolvable logical dilemma, a vicious circle.

Heller published six other novels, three plays, a collection of short stories, and three screen adaptations. He died in 1999, shortly after finishing his last novel, Portrait of the Artist, as an Old Man.

From today’s Writer’s Almanac.

Fun fact: Catch-22 was a finalist for the 1962 National Book Award—along with The Moviegoer, which won it.

(“Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it….” Rally Korrektiv, rally!)

See also

Join the fray…

USA. New York. 1950.

Where they discuss the not-so-usual suspects – including you and you and you and you and and you and you and…!


Happy Belated Birthday Dear Pushkin

publication delayed

The Yesler – Leary Building


Fire Chief Collins hoped to stop
the fire at the Yesler-Leary
building on Front Street, tall atop
what is now Pioneer Square. Weary
with fear and exhaustion, townsmen
gathered close to watch a column
of hot air carry showers of sparks
and burning boards, like fireworks.
The holocaust was slow winning
new territory, but debris
rained down upon roofs as a tree
drops its cones—a new beginning
for more fires, and an explosion
in the sky like a second sun.


On the Beach


Cinders and smoke churned through mist
as the brothers dragged heavy, yet eager
steps through the shallows. Abner kissed
the first log he saw on the beach. “I’ll wager
the missus won’t mind too much,” said
the mill man, brushing a strand of seaweed
from the maiden’s face. “Dot’s the forgiving
kind,” agreed Albert. “But after living
through fire, I’m not about to risk the wrath
of Mabel.” Abner, solemn, nodded, “Don’t press
your luck. You’re already in a fine mess
over that pump organ.” “Don’t think our path
leads south. We’ll rebuild, with God’s will.”
Then they climbed home, up Denny Hill.

Safe Distance


By this time, flames blocked every exit
from the mill, so Albert and Abner followed
the machinery into the drink. Abner checked it
by swimming deeper. Albert swallowed
brine and dogpaddled on the surface,
the wharf burning above him like a furnace.
Abner popped up again, and motioned toward
the open water. Albert grabbed a charred board,
and lurched after his brother. Mostly they floated.
Using lumber from the mill, they drifted
north with the current on a makeshift raft. Led
by the tide across an obsidian surface flooded
with stars, they watched the fires burn all night,
until they landed in Belltown, at first light.

Fire at the Stetson and Post Mill


Keene quickly jumped back onto the pier,
then hurried to the Stetson and Post Mill,
where his brother Abner was a partner. Near
the mill, Albert saw him carrying saws, a drill,
and other tools to safety as the conflagration
began to engulf the quay. At least a ton
of the most expensive machinery remained,
soon to be melted. “Nothing to be gained
by staying with it,” said Abner. “I’ll bargain
we’ll save it yet,” said Albert, right defiant.
Picking up a hot saw, he began cutting a giant
circle in the floorboards—for the pump organ
was on his mind. The gear kept getting hotter,
until Albert just dropped it all in the water.

The Pump Organ


Albert G. Keene, carpenter, had planned
to move his young family south that very day,
to sunny California, a more prosperous land,
and a lot warmer. He transferred a vast array
of their household belongings from the dock
to the Alameda, within a circle traced in chalk
by the captain, as the boundary of their estate.
The family pump organ was the only freight
left on the wharf. The cautious captain feared
the approaching fire and tarred timber
of the dock like the long fuse of a bomb for
his ship. A window of mere moments appeared,
so Keene began pulling the organ up the plank—
the captain had signaled. The organ fell. Sank.