Archive for September, 2014

This Is What Is Invisible

Posted in My Poetry with tags , , , , , on September 26, 2014 by sethdellinger
In the upper small bedroom
I’d watch cartoons while she fiddled around
downstairs, doing grandma-type things,
while I waited to walk to school,
waited for Mom or Dad to get home,
or waited for things now lost to time;
she’d bring me food which I no longer
remember, and cool red drinks
with sugar in them, and when I explored
her house I found amazing things
which clearly showed the difference
between a grandma and a little boy:
swatches of fabric, long-stemmed sturdy matches,
sepia photos of men in tall hats,
endless paintings of a bearded man, praying.

Grandma’s stuff took up a lot of space,
for there must have been a lot that Grandma loved,
and in each room of her small house
her biography could have been written
from tiny items and trinkets in shoeboxes
and larger, unknown things propped in closets.
As Grandpa sat shaking in his wheelchair,
Grandma’s long life followed her around
the dark living room as she gave him pills
and water through a huge straw.
There was a lot that Grandma loved
(this is what is invisible).
I never knew her like I should have.

Today I helped carry her the last few feet
her body will ever move; she wasn’t heavy,
as I imagine that her and the things she loved
must have truly been carried elsewhere,
like the pastor said.
I rubbed my own mother’s back and timed
my breath to hers, hoping to calm her
if she needed calming, hoping to know her
like I should.

Some nicknames I wouldn’t mind being known as:

Posted in Snippet, Uncategorized with tags , , on September 15, 2014 by sethdellinger
1.  Spittoon Lou
2.  The Absolute Maniac
3.  Chimichanga
4.  The Texas Panhandle
5.  Bose Wave Radio
6.  Bucket o’ Blood
7.  Snubbed by the Oscars
8.  Plantain Plantain
9.  America’s Lapdog
10.  Joseph and the Coat of One Color*
11.  Unnecessary Stitches
12.  Huge Hail Balls
13.  Blogger, Frogger, Central Park Jogger*
14.  Onion Dip
15.  Technical Difficulties
16.  World’s Strongest Hipster
17.  Figgy Pudding
18.  Rolling Brownouts
19.  Dingling Brothers Circus
20.  Michelle Tanner
21.   Crawfish Salad
22.  The Elegant Sky-writer
23.  Pinochle
24.  Sid the Squid
25.  Jailbreak
*must always be said in full

Stand Still Like the Hummingbird

Posted in Memoir, Prose with tags , , , , , , , on September 12, 2014 by sethdellinger

I’m too much about me, like to think about me, write about me, do my own thing, yada yada, et cetera et cetera, and on and on. Life is hard enough to figure out as it is, hard enough inside our own heads to figure out what is right, what it means to be a good and nice person who isn’t offensive without reason and who is kind and helpful without losing one’s authentic self, am I right?  Oh geez it’s complicated to even state the problem without creating a run-on sentence.  I mean it’s like, here we are, in our own heads, all alone, wondering what everyone else makes of us, worrying about all kinds of stuff we never say out loud like money and death (especially death) and how our breath smells and if we should cross the street yet or if we have some disease or are going bald or menopause is setting in and while we’re trying to silently figure all this out in our own heads all by ourselves we’ve got to interact with all these other damned people and you never really know (do you?) if you’re being nice or being a prick or hurting people unnecessarily or using guilt just to get your own way or maybe overreacting to other people’s harmless bullshit—and how can you figure all this stuff out?  How can you be nice and helpful without actually being someone else for a bit and observing how you are?  And then maybe it’s just your blood sugar, and you’re having a down day, and you need a nap, but who knows?  Maybe it’s more than that, maybe negativity has infested you, or you are finally and actually and once and for all egotistical—I mean, it happens to some people, right?  Why not you, why not me?  I think maybe it already happened to me, I think maybe I’m lost inside myself.  Once, when I was in rehab for not being able to stop drinking (the second time) the keepers ushered us outside to play kickball.  A bunch of grown or half-grown people who days or weeks before had been sleeping in our own vomit or living drowsy lives in crack houses were now being ushered outside to play kickball.  It was an unusually hot spring morning and I was a very unhappy man—I wasn’t quite done withdrawing yet and I hated everyone—and regardless of my mood, I was in no physical shape to play kickball.  I was quite overweight and hadn’t been eating anything close to a proper diet for years, in addition to smoking two packs a day and drinking a gallon of gin every two days.  My cardiovascular system was fucked, my vision still wasn’t right from all the drink and withdrawal and lack of proper vitamin absorption—that’s a real side effect of alcoholism, look it up— frankly I was having trouble sitting in a chair straight, and here I was being suddenly expected to play kickball.  Oh and one other thing: the woman I was in love with was in this rehab with me, at the same exact time.  I was head-over-heels for her (whatever passed for my head in those days) and despite my intense and fragile emotional and physical condition, I remained unable to extricate myself from those feelings—and from the macho bullshit that I thought was required of me in front of her.  She’d seen me crying almost endlessly for days since we arrived at the rehab (for reasons even I myself didn’t understand) but out here, on this sun-drenched kickball field, I was afraid I might not impress her with my physical prowess while playing a child’s playground game.  Needless to say, I did not excel that day.  Running to first base made me so winded I had to go out of the game.  I couldn’t coordinate my hands with my eyes to catch a lofty, slow-flying red playground ball.  I laid on the outfield grass and heaved breaths, sobbed for no discernible reason, was an unsolveable mess, and had to go back indoors before everyone else.  I thought I had failed as a man, that she would never want me (turned out she never did, but for reasons other than kickball).  There, then, at a moment in which I was almost completely divorced from my body and the pressures of the regular outside world, I remained unable to understand how others might perceive me, was unable to correctly order what was important from what was trivial and ludicrous, was so set in my mind how I viewed myself that I laid in the outfield grass not worried about why I could literally see my heartbeat in my thumb, but about appearing unmanly.  Damned idiot, always a damned idiot even when I’m just inside my head.  Is this what our lot is, as human, to be stuck in this vacuum tube of a skull and never know who or what we are?  Even now, more than a decade removed from that day on the kickball field and any bottle of any type, I don’t know what kind of a person I am.  Do you?  I spend time being grateful for this wonderful little life I have all the time, and yet daily find myself drifting into needless trifles; how much is that magazine I want? Can that person actually park there?  Maybe I should shave this goatee.  What time is Under the Dome on?  Is that even on on Sundays?  I think it’s Mondays this season.  Do you think my high school teachers remember me?  Maybe I don’t make enough of an impression on people.  Or do I try too hard to make a good impression?  Maybe I’m over-bearing.  I need to work on that, start thinking about it more clearly, with more resolve.  Is that black mold over there?  I don’t know much about black mold, I should look it up.  In endless loops.  All that shit in endless loops and at the end of each day (if you measure your life in days) you are no closer to knowing if you are a good person, a good and true person who is true to yourself and doesn’t hurt other people.  How can you know?  How can you know?  I just got home from visiting my father, who still lives in the house I grew up in, in the rural central part of Pennsylvania—all rolling hills, clusters of trees, right at the foot of the Appalachians in the Cumberland Valley.  The house sits on a neat rectangular acre across the street from an expansive Mennonite farm.  It’s calm and still, and the days pass with mostly silence outdoors, the grass growing and the animals making noises in the brush, a car passing every five minutes, fading into the static as quickly as it came.  Dad has hummingbird feeders set up by the porch and we sit out there and watch them, their wings moving as fast as lightning, flitting to and fro, drinking, drinking, then buzzing off to some other urgent affair.  Occasionally one will rest on the pole that holds their feeders, sitting still for a few moments, its head moving up and down and all around, as if to contemplate the surroundings.  But we know better.  It isn’t contemplating a damned thing.  It’s just guarding its territory waiting to eat again, waiting to reproduce again, getting ready to fly again, just simply waiting to respond to impulses.  It’s a beautiful, adorable little creature, but it is not contemplating shit, and it doesn’t give a damn what you think.

Funeral Procession on the Banks of the Yangtze

Posted in Memoir, My Poetry, Prose with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2014 by sethdellinger



It wasn’t long ago that I burned with a freshly-stoked fire, all the time.  It was piss and vinegar in equal parts.  Rave and rage, rave and rage; in my early thirties I was still writing poems about the horrible old days with too much booze and darkened rooms, and long screeds about our destructive system and the persistent search for personal authenticity.  I burned for the world.

I still burn for the world, of course, but now it’s more of a smoldering, smoking thing.  Now it’s more about vintage photographs and war documentaries and less about poems called “Labia”.  It seems to be an evolution of calming that all but the most robust must go through.  For every Iggy Pop there’s a dozen Dennis Learys, their shouts quieting to quaint heartwarming television shows about firefighters before their 50th birthday.  Where does the hot blue flame go?  Why must it?  What is the fuel inside us that burns off?


Fifteen years ago:

The Duck Pond, the actual name of which is Children’s Lake, is a shallow, man-made lake in the scenic town of Boiling Springs.  It is about fifty feet across, and perhaps four-hundred feet long.  At it’s deepest point, it is perhaps five feet deep.  Large, multi-colored, boulder-sized rocks line its bottom.  It attracts a wide array of wildlife: ducks, geese, swans, turtles, beavers.  There are manicured walkways all the way around it, red park benches at regular intervals, and little vending machines that dispense corn, in case you may want to feed the ducks.  You are not supposed to go there at night, although I often have.

I make myself a fresh gin and coke in the huge plastic McDonalds cup.  Someone retrieves a few beers from the trunk.  We all make sure we have our cigarettes.  We set off, to walk around the Duck Pond.

At night, you can hear the ducks, the geese, out on the water, but you can’t see them.  They aren’t very active at night, but every now and then, you hear a splash, the flap of a wing against the heavy air, a short quick quack.  It is melancholy in that worst way: dreary foreboding.

There is a place where the path kind of ends, and you are left to walk through grass for a bit, and under the canopy of some Willows.  In the sunshine, this part of the lake is the most beautiful.  At night, it’s majesty is lost.  You can feel the grass, and perhaps the spray of the dew against your shins, but the willows are lost in the night.  The copse has disappeared.

If you were standing at this spot during the day, you would see that a narrow cement platform has been constructed, extending about fifteen feet into the lake.  This is like a small concrete dock, which serve as a place for the birds to hang out without being in direct contact with human passers-by.  During the day, this concrete dock is covered by birds; squaking, flapping, quacking birds.  During the night, it is abandoned, and is covered only in bird shit.  But it is truly covered in bird shit, like some foul Pollock.

As a group, we stop here.  We are mostly silent.  We are smoking, drinking, thinking.  I start to take my pants off.

Someone asks me, “What are you doing?”

“I’m going to run down that cement dock and jump in.”

They try to tell me not to.  They warn me that the water is very shallow here, and that the concrete dock is awash in bird shit.  I wave off their warnings.  Have these guys stopped wanting to see how far they can go?

I take off my shoes, my socks, my pants, my underwear.  I’m a naked man at the Duck Pond.  The guys have warned me, so they are no longer worried.  They are watching, smiling, ready to laugh and tell me they told me so.

I take a long sip of my drink.

I start running, down through the grass and then suddenly my feet hit concrete.  It is terribly slippery, and even while I am running, I can feel the bird shit sticking to my heels, squishing between my toes.  It is a gross feeling.

In this light, it’s not easy to see where the platform ends.  Just in time, I realize I can see the moon’s reflection in the water; I use this as a guide.

At the end of the platform, I jump hard and high, as if from a diving board.  I pull my legs up under my ass and clasp my hands under my shins: the cannonball position.

And I freeze there; I hover.  Time seemingly stands still.  See me from the back: my shaggy, rarely groomed brown hair, my pimpled back, a bit of flabby belly spilling over into view, my two half-moon ghost-white butt cheeks, and directly below that, the soles of my feet.  And in front of me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me, as if you were a movie camera.  Stop when you are beside me, at my profile.  My mouth, wide like Pac-Man, my ample gut, spilling forth like a sack of oatmeal, the curve of my haunches, my arms flung below me, seeming to hold me in place, to levitate me.  And behind me, a nearly-black matte of stars, tree outlines and moony water.  Now, rotate around me further.  Stop when you are in front of me.  See that look on my face?  That excruciating yawp of desperate living, desperate to feel these moony waters; see that fat, oatmealy belly, my hairy, caveman chest, nipples erect by the night wind, the pale fronts of my wobbly knees, my black overgrown nest of pubics, my dangling penis reduced to a nub by a run through the darkness.  Now look behind me: look at those guys standing there, their faces frozen in various forms of laughter, disbelief, worry, apathy.  Look at those guys!  Oh, they are probably worried about so many things; I am sure they are worried that I am about to hurt myself.  Also, looking at the set of their mouths and the glint in their eyes, I’m willing to wager they’re worried about drowning in a ferry accident with two-hundred strangers in icy cold water somewhere, or whether they’ll ever get to walk the length of South America, or what they’d do if they found a dead body in a hotel hallway, or if they’ll keep having that dream where they show up to the wrong building for a college final exam, or if they have syphilis, or if they’ll ever be the father they want to be, or marry a woman as great as their mother, and in there somewhere are the realizations, too, the realizations we are having every moment of every day: the lines of morality and sanity we keep drawing and moving and drawing again with everything we observe, and the list of Hopes and Dreams that is under constant revision without us knowing, the importance of breath and bras and bicycles all neatly ordered and the smells we love so much like old books and stale cake and the things we know we’ll never do like fly a jumbo jet or hide in a refrigerator to scare the crap out of somebody and oh look at the list of regrets written all over these guys faces the women they wanted to fuck the cars they wanted to buy the movies they wanted to see as though they were already dead as though their whole story had been told but that’s not the truth now is it we lived, we were burning to live, we were burning to live!



Fifteen minutes ago:

I took a long walk this afternoon.  From my house, I went west down Jackson, all the way to Broad, where I stopped in a coffee shop for a huge iced coffee, which I then drank luxuriously slowly as I made my way south down Broad to Oregon, where I turned east and headed back home.  This is a journey of about two miles, at the end of a satisfying, long day.

You pass a lot of interesting people and places on this trek.  As I neared home (still on Oregon, though) I started seeing numerous dogs and their owners, almost all small dogs.  Dachshunds, Yorkies, that sort of thing.  They were all so nice and polite, the dogs as well as the owners.  Here we were, almost as south as you can get in the city of Philadelphia—a place with a reputation, and we’re all just smiling, saying hi, waving at little dogs.  It was nice.

I was listening to Glenn Miller on my headphones, that kind of sentimental Hallmark music with just enough swing to get your feet moving.  The trombones were sliding under the trumpets, and the stand-up bass was standing up while the guitars were laying it down in a lively rendition of “Johnson Rag”.  The sun was just starting to touch the tops of the brick row-homes, the intense angle beaming those cosmic particles onto the scruff of my neck, making me hot, hot.

At the corner of Oregon and 3rd I stopped and turned around, let the sun hit my face, felt the glory of the universe, et cetera, et cetera.  It was odd, facing that direction and the long, close-cropped street stretching out before me, how difficult it was to make out what I was seeing, with the sun directly in my eyes.  I knew I had just passed an old man on a lawn chair with a dachshund and a beer bottle at his feet, as well as a Korean Laundromat and a Little Caesars pizza joint, but the buildings and the wires and the cars, so backlit like that, could have been almost anything; one moment it was Oregon Avenue, the next, enormous Easter Island statue heads, bowing in unison, and then it was Oregon Avenue again, with the little dogs, then the sun dropped another millimeter, and I could have sworn for a fleeting moment I was standing on the ancient banks of the Yangtze, 7,000 years ago, watching a slow funeral procession walking along the shore.  Who are these people, the Hemudu?  They look so sad, so weighed-down.




First House

You can recreate the view from the balcony,
looking at the brown gray neighbor’s house
an arm’s length away.
You can recreate the slanting afternoon light
through the thin-paned windows
coated in dog-nose-snot.
You can recreate the padding dog feet
on hardwood floors,
the paisley relief-map kitchen wallpaper,
the cave-like musty humid basement,
the smell of oatmeal and warm sugar.
But you’ll never recreate (or even remember)
how you got from one room to the next,
or what order you kept things in
in that closet, or desk drawer,
or how many times you fell asleep
on the cold living room floor.
And no one will ever quite know
where that little figurine of the Asian-looking man
came from (the one next to the sink,
looking at the fridge.)



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