Welcome to the Dugout

Welcome to the Dugout

As players in the dugout stand on the steps leading to the field, a few yards from the game, these dispatches are meant to bring places and moments and people closer than they might otherwise appear at first glance. I hope these dispatches, these rough sketches of an ever-changing world, pique your interest and intrigue you.

Boston. June, 2014

Boston. June, 2014.
William Joiner Institute for the Study of War & Social Consequences

I’ve lead writing workshops at the Joiner Institute (formerly the ‘Joiner Center’) off and on since 2008. If you’re a veteran and a writer, from any era, the Joiner Institute offers a great place to develop your work with a wide variety of veterans, socially and politically engaged writers, as well as writers brought in from outside of the US (and usually from places where the US has engaged in conflict). During my first experience at the Joiner, I remember crashing on a couch in a two-bedroom flat with a Palestinian documentary filmmaker and another filmmaker from South Korea. Our upstairs neighbor, an Israeli filmmaker, often shared the kitchen table with us, arguing issues both current and historical. And, more than anything, I remember laughter, carrying over from one day to the next.

This year, as Ilyse and I wheeled our luggage up to our flat in the Copley neighborhood, police tape blocked our way. Apparently, a man in a surgical mask had just robbed a nearby bank (in the Prudential Center) and then crashed his car in front of our place on St. Botolph Street. We looked down the tree-lined street, echoed in brick brownstone walk-ups, to see an officer donning plastic gloves transport paper bags full of bank cash from the crashed getaway car and into a waiting cruiser. We rolled our bags to the far side of the scene, ducked under the yellow tape while the officers focused on their task, and settled into our digs.

The Getaway Car.

The Getaway Car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met up with a couple of veterans and writers, Colin & Lauren Halloran, for breakfast at the Forum on Boylston Street. We were tucked away in a booth at the back of the place, and I had a view of the bright light streaming in through the front. I ordered ‘duck confit sweet potato hash’ from the menu and tried not to think of the bomb that exploded just outside this restaurant during the Boston Marathon. In my workshops at the Joiner, one of my students told me that she’d been in the grandstands that day. Her husband wore the iconic cowboy hat Bostonians and many around the world remember so well from the aftermath of the bombings; he’d gone into the pain and wreckage to save any who needed help. Outside the restaurant, as we talked about art and stories and rambled our way into the bright morning, mothers pushed carriages with young children who marveled at the birds winging their way through the blue spaces between buildings anchored in the sky above.

Close-up of an art piece hanging from a wall in a Cambridge coffee shop.

Close-up of an art piece hanging from a wall in a Cambridge coffee shop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Cambridge, I took part in a reading celebrating the latest anthology out from Warrior Writers (http://www.warriorwriters.org/home.html). The sun sank in the west as each veteran recited poems and shared some of their stories.

I wondered, as another veteran and leader in the community of Warrior Writers (Michael Spinnato) wondered, what General Washington would have thought of this moment. During the Revolutionary War, this home served as Washington’s headquarters. I imagined tents between the broad-limbed trees, stacked muskets, camp fires, and riders approaching by horseback. Washington stood on the porch and feigned to listen to the soldiers giving their reports as he watched smoke drifting through the branches and dissipating among the wide green leaves.

And I imagined Longfellow standing in the same place, then slowly beginning to pace back and forth along the length of the porch as he worked over a line of verse in his head.

The late afternoon ended with Bruce Weigl reading poems from The Abundance of Nothing. If you haven’t yet read these poems, I encourage you to pick up a copy. It’s a beautiful book.

Bruce Weigl on the steps of the Longfellow House.

Bruce Weigl on the steps of the Longfellow House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the way to the Dojo (where the Warrior Writers lived and worked on their craft over the course of a week), I discovered this monument just outside of a subway station:

A Martín Espada poem for all.

A Martín Espada poem for all.

 

 

 

 

Warrior Writers in action.

Warrior Writers in action.

The Peace Stone. (http://www.stonewalk.org/)

One of the writer-participants at this year’s Joiner, Dot Walsh, has begun an astonishing ritual called “Stonewalk.” Basically, she’s created a memorial stone honoring unknown civilians killed in war that is, as it says on her website, “pulled on a specially made caisson through towns and cities” by those who lay hands on the stone and help guide it along. I believe these stones weigh 2 tons apiece. Once each stone reaches its destination, it becomes a permanent installation for all who might visit it and consider the losses of war.

Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, Orlando.

Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, Orlando.

A warm rain swept across the rooftop in wind-driven sheets as I lay back and listened to the music of it. Late afternoon. Neil Halstead in the background singing “Oh! Mighty Engine.”

I thought of a summer gone now, when Ilyse and I lived in Kyoto for a few months. There’s something vast and innumerable about the rain that reminds me of the vermillion torii at the Fushimi-Inari shrine—where rows of brightly-painted gates create a pathway from the profane to the sacred, from the finite to the infinite.

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Large foxes keep their vigil over the shrine, posted as sentinels on pedestals of rough stone. Their faces carry the centuries in their gaze, each a silent witness to the passage of the sun and moon over the curvature of the earth.

A long procession of men and women have worn the path between these torii. They leave tiny, painted torii and even smaller foxes dressed in kimonos and bearing messages inked in a deep black script. And as their numbers grow, they form ranks and files, phalanxes, regiments of foxes kneeling and standing with messages in their paws.

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We took a short train ride to the town of Nara, west of Kyoto, to see the deer of Nara and to walk among them. The deer, gentle and inquisitive, resting on the clipped grass or nibbling from it, strangely reminded me of the rain, too. It was something about the herd, their numbers gathering under trees and down long stretches of parkland, by twos and threes and handfuls until the entire city seemed populated by denizens of hoof and horn, large brown eyes, ears attuned to the dying waves of conversations held generations and generations ago.

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While passing Tokyo by rail, I considered the vast scale of the city skyline set in a panorama over the waters of Tokyo Bay. The sheer weight of steel girders and concrete and rebar were lightened by the liquid nature of glass, its ability to transport water and air and light itself while erasing the weight of all that exists behind its surface.

Distance offered its own instruction on perspective. As I viewed the buildings across the bay, I realized that they were as small as a diorama in my field of view. That is, just as the miniature foxes sat in rows and files under tiny vermillion gates at Fushimi-Inari, the buildings of Tokyo were small rectangles and boxes made of glass and steel, with each window blazing in light, and any messages that might be written there would have to wait for streetlight and neon, or the moon when the clouds break open before dawn.

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There is something in this next image that speaks to all of these things at once.

Scale.
Proximity.
Perspective.
The sacred and the mundane.
Beauty in its finite and infinite measure.

Fish Tank traffic

The Kerouac House

The Kerouac House. Orlando, Florida.

The front porch of Jack Kerouac's house in Orlando.

The front porch of Jack Kerouac’s house in Orlando.

Jack Kerouac wrote The Dharma Bums in just eleven days while living in this house in College Park, a laid-back neighborhood in Orlando. Fittingly, the house now serves as a year-round residence for writers.

Each writer-in-residence is given a season (winter/spring/summer/fall) to work on their craft. They can choose to hunker down, roll up their sleeves, and put the world on hold as they devote themselves to their writing. They can also host parties and engage the Orlando writing scene, if they choose. Members of the Kerouac Project are happy to help in either case. Traditionally, each writer gives a reading of their work at the end of the residency—events that are well attended by local writers and lovers of the art.

IMG_9977I was fortunate enough to stay in the Kerouac House during the summer of 2009, revising poems that would soon be published in my second collection (Phantom Noise). Ilyse and I taught a writing workshop during my time in the Kerouac House and I made many new friendships during the summer of ’09 that have continued on to this day.

The most recent resident, poet Anzhelina Polonskaya (originally from Malakhova, Russia) was a member of the Moscow Union of Writers and a member of the Russian-PEN Center. The previous resident, Sion Dayson, is an American fiction writer who has lived in Paris—if memory serves—for the past nine years. Sion gave a mesmerizing read from her novel-in-progress (When Things Were Green) at the end of her stay; I can’t wait to read the book once it’s completed and I know everyone lucky enough to be in the Kerouac House for her reading feels the same way.

To find out more, visit The Kerouac Project: http://kerouacproject.org/

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This magnificent oak tree has presided over it all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The selection committee has recently concluded its difficult work choosing next year’s writers and I’m looking forward to meeting each new writer who opens the door to Jack’s blue house on Clouser Street.

Berlin, Germany.

While staying at the Savoy Hotel, on Fasanenstrasse, a short walk from the Berlin Zoo, I rented a bike and rode to Museum Island, in the city center. On the way there, I passed nude sunbathers in the Tiergarten and pedaled under the Brandenburg Tor. While crossing through an intersection, I became distracted by a hurdy-gurdy man wearing lederhosen and a leather vest. German police officers waved me to the curb and gave me a stern rebuke for running a red light before releasing me into the city streets.

Bike & pedestrian lane along the Tiergaten

Bike & pedestrian lane along the Tiergarten

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inside the Vorderasiatisches museum, or the Near East Museum, I stood before one of the more bizarre and unexpected sights I would find in all of Germany: the Ishtar gate. (Please see the photo of Kurdish poet Gulala Nouri standing in front of the Ishtar gate in Babylon, Iraq; it’s located under Projects: Sound: Field Recordings.) In the museum, I stood transfixed by the massive finality of the structure. I tried to make sense of its jarring incongruity—as it was separated from an ancient landscape and housed so far from where it was originally built.

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In the same museum, there are portions of buildings (from the Inanna temple) painstakingly taken from the ancient and storied city of Uruk. Think Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Consider the art of storytelling and the great epic of Gilgamesh, shared and retold over campfires and flickering candlelight for generation after generation, the oral tradition crossing over into the written word until one day, in the summer after high school, I lay in the grass of California and read Herbert Mason’s version for the first time. That Uruk. All of it was transported brick by brick and then reassembled in Germany—similar, perhaps, to how lions and elephants are transported in cages to be housed in a zoo.

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Part of the fascination lies in the matter of sheer scale coupled with great beauty. The Ishtar gate is tremendous, too large to be taken in with a simple gaze. The eye wanders over its ocean-blue surface and recognizes, instantly, that a former world, one that has disappeared mostly into legend and the archaeological record, was, in fact, splendid and worthy of awe.

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Orlando Public Library

The Orlando Public Library

orlandoPublic_top[1]101 E. Central Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32801
407.835.7323

I visited the downtown library this afternoon to check out the newly opened and incredibly innovative Dorothy Lumley Melrose Center for Technology, Information and Creativity.  As it states on their website: “The Melrose Center is a 26,000-square-foot digital technology center located on the second floor of the Orlando Public Library. In addition to technology-related classes, it offers audio, video and photography studios along with simulators (flight, driving, construction), a fab lab with 3D printers and a large interactive media wall. There are also other services such as access to a conference room, printing and a wireless multi-display presentation gateway that presents wirelessly using laptops and mobile devices.”

Recording Studio (Orlando Public Library)

Recording Studio (Orlando Public Library)

Engineer Booth (Orlando Public Library)

Engineer Booth (Orlando Public Library)

But there’s much more to it than the library website describes. The photography studio comes with a green screen and work areas. There’s a full music recording studio (large enough for bands and ensembles to record an album) with an attached, professional-grade engineering booth. Separate editing rooms make it possible for mix-downs and more once the recording work is done. The Melrose Center has two small soundproof recording booths—set up primarily to record podcasts and other voice-focused work.

Not only is there a flight simulator, but there is a construction equipment simulator (and I’m told they are working to create an accreditation program so that library patrons might one day be hired after training on these simulators).

Simulation Trainers (Orlando Public Library)

Simulation Trainers (Orlando Public Library)

A friend and photographer, Kim Buchheit, has already attended the mandatory orientation sessions and has invited Ilyse for a photo shoot for Ilyse’s author photo—so we’re diving in and using the facilities.

If you’re not in the Orlando area, I encourage you to send this link to your local librarian and to your city council members. The Melrose Center is an idea put into action—and that idea might be part of a necessary renaissance for libraries in our time.

Marfa, Texas.

Marfa, Texas.

A few years ago, I drove from the small west Texas town of Marfa, in the boondocks of the Chihuahuan desert, to the state capital in Austin, a distance of well over 400 miles. I listened to album after album—Radio Tarifa, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Pat Metheny and Jolie Holland and the American Recordings by Johnny Cash. I rolled the window down and listened to the wind blowing in from the land itself. I thought about old times and friends I’d lost along the way. Things I should have said or done. Things I did say and some of what I’d done. I thought about a book I was working on that touched on some of these things. I considered what I’d left in and what I’d left out, while the warm Texas air rolled over my forearm resting on the car door. It took me roughly 6 and a 1/2 hours driving through flat rangeland and rolling Texas countryside, from Alpine to Fort Stockton, Sonora to Junction to Fredericksburg, before I finally drove into Austin.

I was looking forward to meeting up with Ilyse to celebrate her birthday in Austin. I imagined us browsing the racks at Waterloo Records on Lamar and 6th, then heading across the street to BookPeople. We might head over to the antique shops and guitar stores across the river, too. Maybe watch more than a million Mexican-tailed bats rise at dusk from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. And to let the accumulated heat of the day go, we’d dive into a cool pool of blue chlorinated water at the hotel, our bodies illuminated by underwater lights as we swam side by side toward the plastic vent at the bottom of the pool.

Not once did I think of the Great Pacific Trash Vortex. With each mile registered by the dashboard odometer, it never dawned on me that I’d have to drive much, much further to cross the great distance that giant trash pile in the ocean encompasses. I’d have to turn right at Austin to head far south of Corpus Christi and to the barrier islands off Red Fish Bay. I’d have to turn left and head north to Wichita Falls and the Oklahoma border. I’d need to drive to Galveston, Lubbock, Amarillo. I’d need to add Dallas and Houston and San Antonio into the wide field of water filled with floating debris. Add Midland and Abeline and College Station. Beaumont and Odessa and Carrizo Springs. I’d have to add in archeological sites, earthen mounds from the Hasinai people, near Nacogdoches, as well as stones and arrowheads from the Folsom people near Caprock Canyons State Park. I’d have to remember the Alamo. Spurs and boots and cattle drives. No Country for Old Men and Giant and Once Upon a Time in China and America. I’d have to remember The Whole Wide World just to get a sense of how vast the Great Pacific Trash Vortex stretches.


Here’s a link to a trailer for the upcoming feature-length film, “Midway,” which considers the effects of trash on the lives of birds in the Pacific Ocean.

Outtakes: Helpful Organizations

Ocean Conservancy
Bat Conservation International

Port Huron, Michigan.

Port Huron, Michigan.

It’s the end of April, National Poetry Month. I’ve just returned from a quick trip for coffee and doughnuts at Tim Horton’s in the small oil and gas town of Sarnia, Canada, just over the bridge spanning the St. Claire River. I watched the gas fires burn from the fumestacks there. A long stream of families walked down one of Sarnia’s main streets, pushing strollers and wearing t-shirts supporting Muscular Dystrophy research. Human-sized Bodhisattva statues stood guard in the front yard of one of the Chippewas of Sarnia, who live in the shadows of chemical plants and have a documented birth rate of 33% males to 67% females—the first known instance of such a disproportionate rate anywhere in the world. These chemical plants stretch for miles along the river and it’s thought that the Chippewas have been subjected, in multigenerational ways, to the adverse affects of chemical runoff and exposure.

The Fort Gratiot lighthouse keeps its vigil over the cold waters pouring in from Lake Huron on the opposite shoreline, the American side. My guide, Jim Frank, tells me of suicides in the current, methamphetamines in the neighborhoods, the crazy lady who lives down the road, and other stories he’s gathered through the cold winters and leafed-out summers spent in what he describes as the thumb, or the dead-end, of Michigan.

The old Mueller factory buildings still stand in Port Huron, too. During WWI, the factory produced brass rods—a key step in the manufacture of munitions. It later developed armor-piercing shells—rounds that tore through Rommel’s Africa Corps in WWII. I begin to wonder who the researchers were who developed the rounds, where they might have lived in Port Huron, if one of them woke in the early morning hours to a nightmare of metal splitting metal open and recognized the macabre genius of it, and if their descendants walk the shoreline as I stand watching the lake waters rolling in, wave by wave.

In the year 1679, a Frenchman (Father Hennepin) described the nearby landscape:

“The country between the two lakes (Erie and Huron) is very well situated, and the soil very fertile. The banks of the strait (Detroit) are vast meadows, and the prospect is terminated with some hills covered with vineyards, trees bearing good fruit, groves and forests so well disposed that one would think that nature alone could not have made, without the help of art, so charming a prospect. The country is stocked with stags, wild goats and bears, which are good for food, and not fierce as in other countries; some think they are better than pork. Turkey cocks and swans are there very common; and our men brought several other beasts and birds, whose names are unknown to us, but they are extraordinary relishing. The forests are chiefly made up of walnut, chestnut, plum and pear trees, those loaded with their own fruits and vines.”

I can’t help but wonder what Father Hennepin would think of the bombed-out neighborhoods of Detroit now. Derelict buildings crumbling into ruin. Tree saplings rising from the broken fissures of what once stood within the Industrial Age.

Exquisitely drawn portraits line the hallways at St. Claire Community College. Faces from the years gone by, I think, situated within a framed housing of charcoal and ink. And, like the Bodhisattvas positioned in the Chippewa grass across the water, they pay attention to all that we do, opting not for their own immediate entrance into nirvana, but instead choosing to help us on our way to enlightenment.

Lead Soldier WWI

At home, I have a small lead soldier from WWI. A children’s toy.

And for almost 100 years, this doughboy has sat patiently behind his machinegun, eyes focused on all that lies before him, waiting.

What am I to make of this tiny statue, with its inherent determination, its steadfast belief in all that might materialize before him?

Outtakes

Lighthouse Port Huron

Fort Gratiot Lighthouse, looking out toward Lake Huron

 

The Raven at Port Huron

A truly phenomenal place to read a book or maybe write a new one: The Raven Café.

Lake Huron at dawn.

Lake Huron at dawn.

 

 

 

BRIAN TURNER