13 Ways of Looking at a Hamster

I The house was dark. The only moving thing Was the eye of the hamster.


I was of three minds Like a habitrail In which there are three hamsters.


The hamster whirled in its spinning wheel. It was a small part of the condominium.


A man and a woman Are one. A man and a woman and a hamster and a tortoise and a bulldog and a nine-year-old boy Are one.


I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of wanting seeds Or the beauty of having them, The hamster digesting Or just after.


Incomprehensible things were written. The hamster ignored them.


O tan men of Hollywood, Why do you imagine golden beavers? Do you not see how the hamster Scampers around the feet Of the women about you?


I know Mexican accents And lucid, unrepeatable curses; But I know, too, That the hamster doesn't care What I know.


When the hamster burrowed out of sight, It marked the beginning Of one of many sunrises.


At the sight of hamsters Flying in a green light, Even the neighborhood weirdos Would cry out sharply.


He rode over California In a glass hybrid. Once, a fear pierced him, In that he mistook The shadow of his Prius For a swarm of hamsters.


The wood chips are moving. The hamster must be breathing.


It was evening all afternoon. The hills were burning And they were going to burn. The hamster sat In his food cup.

Apologies to Wallace Stevens.

Yesterday Evening in the Grocery Store

Twentysomethings with tattoos and creative facial hair,when did you discover my neighborhood? It used to be just middle-class families who went to bed at ten and leathery beach rats who kept our one bar open.

Now here you are in the cat-food aisle, beaming at all the Fancy Feast. Cuddles will enjoy whatever flavor you pick. Don't forget to buy kibble, though, or she will lose all her teeth.

Ignore my son as he runs past you shouting, "Dipthong!" He enjoys saying the word. If you ask him what he wants for dinner, he'll say, "dipthong."

It was funny the first seventeen times.

On a campus that didn't much care for poetry, my college had two poetry prizes. I won one sophomore year, and the other one senior year, which pretty much made me Big Poet On Campus. Every spring, five seniors from colleges and universities around the state were chosen for the Poetry Circuit, where you got to drive around and give readings of your poetry with the other BPOCs. It was very prestigious, and I made the penultimate cut, but in the end I wasn't chosen for the tour. When I expressed my disappointment to my writing teacher, he told me something that I've never forgotten. He said,

"In writing, early success leads to early cronyism, leads to early intellectual death."

When you're twenty-one and so is Bret Easton Ellis and he's famous and you're not, that can give you some hope. But now I'm thirty-eight and so is Bret Easton Ellis and he's still doing okay and I'm blogging, and it makes me wonder: Is this it? I gave up on poetry when I got to the point where I was only writing sonnets and could only think in pentameter; I gave up on fiction because I didn't have the attention span to write a coherent, necessary short story, much less a whole novel.

Way back on November 23, 1985 I wrote in my diary, "Maybe this is all I'll ever write -- journal entries."

Maybe I was right.

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong, The Old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W. H. Auden, "Musee des Beaux Arts" (1940)

"Landscape with the Fall of Icarus" by Peter Breughel, the Elder (1525-1569)

Oil-tempera, 29 inches x 44 inches, Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.

Two's Company

The big question now is, should I have another baby? Pro: Jackson would have someone to play with.

Con: Jackson would have someone to fight with.

Pro: Being a loner by nature, having another kid around would take some of the heat off me, as I wouldn't be the sole source of entertainment for Jackson.

Con: I'd have two kids to entertain instead of one, and would get nothing done, ever.

Pro: Jack wants another one, but not until we can afford it, which could be several years down the road.

Con: I'll be 38 years old in three days, and do not want to be pregnant at age 45.

Con: I have had some depressing days since Jackson arrived, so I could be at risk for more post-partum depression with kid number two.

Pro: But I probably won't have the same stresses of (a) trying to edit a magazine while learning how to tend to a new baby at the same time, and (b) getting blindsided by the humiliation of losing my job (see posts of 11/20/01 and after for details).

Pro: It might be a girl!

Con: It might be a girl.

Last night I was nursing Jackson to sleep and reading my journal from 1990, and I found that I had copied down this poem. It was a time, like this, where I was contemplating action versus inaction.

Sonnet XIX: On His Blindness

When I consider how my light is spent,

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest He returning chide;

"Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?"

I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent

That murmur, soon replies, "God doth not need

Either man's work or His own gifts. Who best

Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state

Is Kingly: thousands at His bidding speed,

And post o'er land and ocean without rest;

They also serve who only stand and wait."

John Milton

Home for the Holidays

We're going to visit my family in Denver for the next few days, and on that topic, here's another poem by Philip Levine from a recent New Yorker (I found it, Brian!). I'm sure this violates a copyright or two, but I like to think that posting poetry is like sharing music files, and that if you like them maybe you'll go buy one of the poet's books and we can call it even. Home for the Holidays

Does anyone give a shit? Not

I, said the little brown mouse.

And so to bed, said Mother,

but no one was listening.

Praise the Lord, said the radio,

the radio said Praise the Lord

again, and the television

turned its back on the room.

Turnips for wisdom, eggplant

for beauty, parsnips for ease,

cabbage for size, a raw egg

for the hair, a slice of ham

to seize the hips, for the nose

foxglove and salt, for grace

ice-cold water poured from

way high up to way down low.

Everyone sits at the big table

in the dark. The empty plates

moon, the silverware stars,

the napkins scrub their hands.

I'm home, says the front door.

The windows are deep in thought,

the roof has taken off its hat.

Nothing to do, chants the toilet.

Merry Xmas Eve

Here I am, shopping for books over the Internet on Christmas Eve. This morning I suddenly realized that two of the books I look for every time I go into a used book store could probably be found very easily online, and I was right. So I ordered them. Of course, that takes some of the the fun out of browsing at used book stores for a while. Time for two poems, the first by William Carlos Williams.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten

the plums

that were in

the icebox

and which

you were probably


for breakfast

Forgive me

they were delicious

so sweet

and so cold

Isn't that nice? Now this one's by Kenneth Koch.

Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams


I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.

I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do and its wooden

beams were so inviting.


We laughed at the hollyhocks together

and then I sprayed them with lye.

Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.


I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the next ten years.

The man who asked for it was shabby

and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.


Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.

Forgive me. I was clumsy, and

I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor.


Who do I have to bl -- er, KNOW to get the comments link to work? I am totally thinking of applying for editorial work at this place, even though moving to L.A. is pretty much out of the question. But that fits in nicely with my pretending-to-try-to-find-a-job M.O.

Going to Palm Springs tomorrow to visit Jack's mom, who is recovering from pneumonia. She got kind of choked up on the phone when he told her we were coming, so we're hoping that a dose of The Peanut will cure her completely.

Edward Dorn is a damned good poet. If you can find a copy of his "Gunslinger," buy it.


The cowboy stands beneath

a brick-orange moon. The top

of his oblong head is blue, the sheath

of his hips

is too.

In the dark brown night

your delicate cowboy stands quite still.

His plain hands are crossed.

His wrists are embossed white.

In the background night is a house,

has a blue chimney top,

Yi Yi, the cowboy's eyes

are blue. The top of the sky

is too.

Birth Day

And to my other friend Steve, who as far as I know does not do yoga, happy birthday! Here is a Rilke poem that I've always liked, translated by Robert Bly. The last line reminds me of something I read recently -- "As death is inevitable for the living, so birth is inevitable for the dead."

I find you in all these things of the world

that I love calmly, like a brother;

in things no one cares for you brood like a seed;

and to powerful things you give an immense power.

Strength plays such a marvelous game --

it moves through the things of the world like a servant,

groping out in roots, tapering in trunks,

and in the treetops like a rising from the dead.