Ken Anderson: Two Poems

The Politics of Keeping Still

 

Midway through launching whispers

Into the mangrove, the whistle blew.

Time in our little launderette

Spun out while last year’s back issues

Posed their frail queries: which vault

For these leftovers, for that disinherited spoon?

 

Weather is a crazy thing, crackling back

To the closet under the stairs, the one

We never open. And the old chestnuts

Lie in their bed of laurels untouched.

Seasons come and go in various brands of moonlight.

Why are we all still here?

 

Shouldn’t there be an upgrade by now?

Like a knot loosening, or that novel

By Henry James (the one with broken spine)

We’d always meant to get around to finally finishing.

Sure, there’s still plenty left to do now

The bowling alley is closed for the season.

Enjoy a free trial with no obligation.

The escalators run continually with or without you.

 

Bastille Day Sale

 

You read about things like this

Happening to other people.

The long slide into the temperate zone

With its hints of lavender, its whites

Out of season. Something like that.

Long days followed by long nights, but

Life in the suburbs was all soda and crackers

By then. Greasy kid stuff.

 

They were happy until they were not.

No birthday lunch this year. So

A solemn jugularity seized the day. Well,

That dog won’t hunt. And so many unopened

Bank statements. Nevertheless,

I have enclosed the picture-postcard

On which this note wouldn’t fit.

We all make our own fun.

 


Kenneth Anderson lives and writes in what the Board of Tourism calls “Connecticut’s Quiet Corner.” He has flirted with the worlds of academia, corporate enterprise, healthcare management, and small business but escaped each with his soul more or less intact. He has a cat.

Len Kuntz: Dementia (3)

You are remembering a pet goat

The bell around its neck sounding like

The jingling noise the door made at Storm Lake Grocery

So old man Miller would be alerted to customers.

“Old man, Miller, he was sweet on me,” you say.

“He gave me free candy. He touched me once.”

I try to explain that your mind’s become a shifting bridge

But you’re as lucid as ever, insisting,

“He touched me where he shouldn’t have

And at his funeral,” you say,

“I couldn’t stop laughing.”

 


Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State, an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans, and the author of I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO BE HERE AND NEITHER ARE YOU out now from Unknown Press.  You can also find him at lenkuntz.blogspot.com

Stories in the Sky

Starry summer nights are fantastic. Grab some blankets, beers and friends (heck, you don’t even need friends!) and post up beneath the canopy of stars. You could sit there for hours, especially with a meteor shower going on.

I usually take those moments to start blabbering about the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia, and OH! how you can use them to find the North Star. If I’m with a cute guy or girl, I’ll then use my smooth tactic of making up a constellation and telling a story about it. It usually ends in some romantic hint that I’d like to make out with them. “How do you KNOW all this, Therese?” they ask, moving closer, totally falling for my ploy. We both know it’s because I’m a boss. But I share a simple sentiment:

“It’s not that difficult!” (then, cue the make-out session)

If you want to know how to find the constellations, check Google. I went to the local library and read about it. I’ll draw you a star chart right now.

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See? The Big Dipper!

That’s not the point of constellations. Adrastus didn’t turn to Despoine in 1300 b.c and say, “Hey, look at this cool shape of dots I saw in the sky,” just to look smart or get laid, because he could have gotten his way in that regard without the help of the stars. The ancient Greeks and other civilizations used the stars to tell stories, chart movement, and make scientific discoveries.

And that’s what you should be doing with your sky – telling stories, being imaginative, sharing history.

Now you might look up and say, “Hey wait a second. That looks nothing like a dragon!” Ok, Nancy, sit down and let me tell you something: we’re projecting the human imagination onto something that previously existed. By saying that it doesn’t look perfect you are choosing not to have any fun, and that’s simply not my problem.

Go outside tonight, sit yourself down beneath those stars and look up. It’s ok if you feel intimidated. What you need to remember is that you’re safe – no one is going to make fun of you. The heavens have painted a big canvas for you to explore. Use it as an opportunity. Let your mind wander, especially if it hasn’t in a while. Now go on and tell a story. Make one up if you must! Find shapes and explain how they got there. It might be dirty and raw at first! How beautiful.

Now don’t hold back simply because there are previously established constellations up there, because there are TONS of benefits to storytelling. It activates your imagination and strengthens your memory to name a few. Don’t let anyone stop you. Learn the old constellations if you want! Remember, you’re growing. You don’t need to know everything or anything for sure.

 

The sky was never about showing off how much you know – it’s about what you can find with it.

Maybe it’s a treasure map, and there are dangers along the way: cages, traps, lions, birds. But there are also ways to fight back, with boats and swords and castles. Or maybe it’s simple, like the Great Lawn Chair constellation. See? It looks like this.

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I lounge on it all the time.

Do not cower beneath the sky. Use it to tell your story. There’s no knowing what wonders you can find within yourself or your world after storytelling. You’re just as imaginative as those who named the constellations in the first place.

Plus, it’s a great excuse to make out with someone.

Want to Write Better? Notice Pockets.

It might sound crazy, but my obsession with pockets has made me a better writer.

It might sound crazy, but I think my obsession with pockets has helped in my struggle to improve my writing. Let me explain.

As part of the generation reared alongside a certain boy wizard, the memories of reading Harry Potter books the day they came to my door on hot summer mornings left an indelible mark on me. After the series ended, and I got older, I realized that I was consistently drawn back to the initial book in the series, and to many of the more mundane facts about this strange world. Chief among the objects of my fascination was Rubeus Hagrid’s moleskin coat. According to the Harry Potter Wikia, and supported by different passages in the book, the contents of this coat’s pockets were as follows:

  • a pink umbrella
  • a slightly squashed chocolate cake
  • a copper kettle
  • a packet of sausages
  • a fire poker
  • a teapot
  • several chipped mugs
  • a bottle of “some amber liquid” (I see you, Hagrid, I see you)
  • a live owl
  • a long quill
  • a roll of parchment
  • a dirty, spotted handkerchief, which might actually just be a tablecloth
  • a couple of dormice
  • bunches of keys
  • slug pellets
  • balls of string
  • mint humbugs (British impersonations of candy)
  • teabags
  • wizard money
  • moldy dog biscuits
  • Harry’s vault key

Finding this passage again, I thought “This must be how it started.” You see, since I was a kid, I have always needed to have as many pockets on my person as possible, and if you were to stop me on the street and demand I empty them, you would find them all full. Hagrid’s coat was a kind of holy grail. Who would ever need to carry a bag if they had a coat where they could stuff an owl? Every pair of jeans I own has five pockets, every jacket has at least two outer and one inside pocket, and I usually wear button-downs with one or two breast pockets. Those who know me well might remember me jokingly challenging friends to “the pocket game,” where whoever has the most stuffed in each of their pockets wins. This was, of course, unfair, and you can probably tell that I was very popular. Yeeeeppp.

Anyway, “How does this relate to writing,” you might ask, if you were rude and enjoyed interrupting people. But you’d also be right in asking, because it does sound ridiculous. Here’s the thing: writing is all about practice. There’s that famous quote from Hemingway that “Ninety percent of writing is showing up,” and while that’s true, some percent of that is cultivating a mind that notices things, that seeks to tell the story of everything that the eye sees.

Do you have pockets? What’s in them? Where did it come from? Who made it? Would you give it to someone? What’s it for?

Do you not have pockets? What would you put in them if you did have them? What are you aching to tell the pocket-havers, and what can you share when you have nothing?

So yes, this is a strange and circuitous way of saying practice, damnit. But not just in sitting down to write. Practice thinking, noticing, and seeing behind what’s in front of you. Pockets are simple. Almost everyone has them, but you notice when they aren’t there. On the other hand, if you’re like many of the women I know, maybe you notice when they are, and especially when they’re fully functional. What else don’t you notice as much? Go out and write it. As an artist, you don’t have time off. While that might sound oppressive, it’s actually incredibly freeing. You might remember, if you’re like me, posting on author’s websites, writing in forums, or even (god help me) writing a letter asking for advice on how to get a book published when you haven’t written anything. I was eleven. It was to Christopher Paolini. I hope he never got it. Anyway, I’ve always been preoccupied with what I was going to do in the future. But when you take yourself seriously as an artist, really get into the habit of noticing things, it forces you to live in and appreciate the present moment. Get obsessed with life, with everything around you. And pay attention to the things that you are most caught up in. Chances are you’ve already noticed something about those that no one else has. So don’t freak out. Just sit back and watch, listen, and write.