Archive for October, 2014


Posted in My Poetry with tags , , on October 29, 2014 by sethdellinger

At twelve, too old for but still scared of
carousels, the horses fake and painted,
the lights electric
(not reflections from the sun,
but if you squint, you can see stars,
and if you knock your head hard
on the rising-and-falling bars as you dismount
you might also see stars, not like you’d imagine—
perfect five-point-pattern David stars, no—
but stars of a kind) and if you did ride,
succumbing to the rise and fall, your horse
would be too tame despite its flashing teeth,
it would be wooden and inert and unkind,
and the disapproving onlookers would appear
every time around, their faces knotted blurs
as if on the next orbit you might break free
and take the horses with you
up over the snack bar
all the way into the long parking lot.

I’m Not Me

Posted in Memoir with tags , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2014 by sethdellinger

My father was born into orchard country. Nestled deep in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley, near the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the South Mountain.  His youngest years were spent in rolling hills crowded by apple trees, which Mexican immigrants picked nearly year-round.  There were Mexican restaurants around unassuming bends in the country roads; I never saw them but I can imagine they might have looked out of place, if one stopped to think about them.  Dad told me a story once about a fancy-looking house that sat at the bottom of a gulley and was surrounded by Red Delicious trees.  I saw the house myself—it’s still there.  It looks like a small but stately plantation.  When Dad was a boy, the house had an in-ground swimming pool, which was quite a luxury in those days, and they’d let him and his friends swim there occasionally.  One Halloween, he was trick-or-treating and the family gave all the boys little pop guns—plastic guns that shot a cork out of a barrel.  He thought they must be rich.  He never forgot it.  He remembers it like it was yesterday.  My mother was born a mere 25 miles away, in a vanishingly small town surrounded by cow pastures, clumps of trees, and lean-to outbuildings.  Farm country.  In fact, she was born on a farm—a working farm, and she grew up doing the kinds of things you might imagine: collecting eggs from innocent chickens, watching her father and brothers shear sheep, waking up at the crack of dawn. Her dream as a little girl was to somehow, someway, move to the nearby small town and help her uncle run a pharmacy he owned there.  She pictured herself sweeping the floor, stocking the shelves, maybe keeping the books.  To her, this was a version of glamour.  Her family would take in kids from “the city” who needed places to stay; Fresh Air Kids, they called them.  Sometimes my mom’s country family swelled to great numbers; a surprising-looking bunch, I’m sure.  My genes—whatever they are—are a swirl of them.  I’ve got orchards in my blood, and my skeleton is a farm.

As a young child, I didn’t know much about my parents or where I’d come from. It wasn’t an issue I pondered.  I knew that I certainly felt like me.  I knew I liked to mostly not talk about what I felt inside.  I knew I liked drawing things, and that I sure did love the outdoors.  I liked playing with small boats in the bathtub, and Matchbox cars in the sandbox, and I hated going to sleep, and the dark scared me.  There were two neighbors who lived two doors down from us—at the time it felt far away, but it is literally just thirty yards, I just looked at it not six months ago—who must have been 50 years old at the time.  I considered them my best friends, although to them I must have seemed like a just occasional little person who happened by.  I liked talking to them and imagining what their grown-up lives were like inside that big red brick house—what the kitchen looked like, what they ate for dinner.  I miss them.  They’re dead now.

I was a fairly typical teenager. I was mostly about having fun; everything was a joke.  I could be cruel.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes and experimented with just about anything that could be experimented with.  I talked a lot.  I thought I was important and smart.  I hid secret desires and interests: poetry, philosophy, sexual confusion, the occult.  I got angry, I got sad, I read classic science fiction novels late at night in my bedroom with the door locked.  Women started to like me and it took me a long time to figure out what to do about it; when I did figure it out I tried very hard to be a “good guy” but still…I often failed.  I liked comic books, American Gladiators, and MTV.  Late in my teens I discovered Tumbling Run, a long hiking trail in the nearby Appalachians that follows a truly adorable stream, which is a trickle at the trail head and as you climb higher becomes a rushing set of falls and deep, clear pools.  I would hike it by myself, find perches away from the trail, pull out a notebook and write poems tailored after E.E. Cummings.  They were full of angst and love and fear.  I thought Tumbling Run would be like my Walden Pond, but mostly, I just forgot about it.

As a young man I encountered my problems: alcoholism and depression. But those weren’t the only defining elements of my life.  As I moved into adulthood I moved away from American Gladiators and even further from the tiny boats in the bathtub.  There were surface changes, like a deeper attraction to poetry and literature and “serious films”, but I changed for real, too.  I got angry.  Angry at everything.  I became of a mind that to judge everyone as harshly and vocally as possible was actually a good trait to have.  I smoked a lot of cigarettes, often two packs a day.  I was still funny, but now with more sarcasm and less joy.  I liked staying awake until the sunrise, never cleaning my car, and throbbing rock and roll.  I hated being alive.

After young adulthood up until this moment (what we shall refer to as life) I’ve just kept on changing.  There are always the obvious, cosmetic alterations: a sudden liking for big band music and Cary Grant films, corduroy jackets and Florsheim loafers, art museum memberships and mini-figurines of Felix Mendelssohn.  But also sea changes, but so fast; one moment I don’t want to talk to people at all, the next I enjoy the communion of strangers.  Seemingly one moment, an actual pastime of mine is driving my car through the country at night, the windows down, blasting music from my CD player, smoking cigarettes.  Last night I walked home through the city, listening to my music in my headphones, stopping to read the menu in a vegan restaurant. One moment I want to be single forever, the next I’m in love more than I ever have been.  A month or so ago, I made a short visit to the area I grew up in (somewhere between orchards and farms) and had breakfast with two of my oldest, dearest friends.  They looked the same as they always had, as I’m sure I did, and the little dirt-hole diner we ate in was the same as always, and the streets and parking lots were the same as they always were, when I was spending all my days there.  But having been largely gone from the area for four years, it all felt so different, so foreign.  Was that actually me that had lived here, had called these places home, these friends familiar?  Or was it a dream had by a being who calls himself me?  After breakfast one of the friends was driving me to my dad’s house, and as I climbed in his car,  I was thinking he has a car! (I no longer have a car).  I was nearly aghast (but without judgment) when I settled into the passenger seat and realized this was the car of a very serious cigarette smoker; ashes, crumpled empty packs everywhere, the stale pall of smoke infusing the upholstery.  And it looked like many cars I had in my day: old drink cups on the floor, change everywhere, ATM receipts and food wrappers.  I wasn’t grossed out; I felt oddly at home.  It had just been so long since that had been me.  It was like time travel.

If I’m able to look directly at the thought long enough, it becomes very clear that the notion of me doesn’t exist.  I’m a collection of moments, an intricate study in cause-and-effect.  I am the orchard, and the farm, and the boats in the bathtub, and the throbbing rock and roll, and walking home through the city last night.  I am time itself.  I’m not me.

My Estuary

Posted in Prose with tags , , , , on October 16, 2014 by sethdellinger

I’ve never been able to ease into anything. The flow of life is like a torrent for me.  Even if on the surface the waters appear calm, underneath is all white water, broiling and frothing against the smooth-worn boulders; there is a reason my blog is Notes From the Fire; things froth, things flame, things roil.  There is no easing into anything. No easing.  And so much noise!  Even when living a life so alone, the noise is persistent, concussive.  Car commercials where celebrities I like encourage me to take on life-ruining debt, with shiny black wet city streets behind them.  Who can resist the allure of shiny wet black city streets?  And low-toned, vague voiceovers?  I am a sucker for those, they fool me every time into thinking they are genuine, real, thoughtful.  And handheld gadgets now, with push notifications that insist I stop what I am doing in order to read about the latest problems of the Italian Prime Minister, or Redbox wants me to rent the latest Ice Cube movie, or somebody liked my profile picture.  All the time with these gadgets, these gadgets.  I love them, but still, they yell at me. Screens during the day, screens at night, screens at dusk, inside and outside, my own screens and other people’s screens and screens larger than a house, they all want my attention, want to sell me things, want my fears and longings.  Worries about whether I should rearrange my furniture, or if I can get electrocuted simply by pounding a nail into a wall.  These are the things I worry about inside the torrent.  I worry about if people like me, even as I try desperately to be my most authentic self.  You can’t ever stop worrying if people like you, or if your parents are proud of you, or if your old friends wonder where you are because they won’t get Facebook, or if your elementary school teachers are dead, or what happened after the end of LOST, or why my bank charges me to use other ATMs, or why I feel so tired sometimes, and sometimes not tired for days or weeks or what seems like years, to the point that sometimes I miss being tired.  I wonder what kind of trees line my street, and I hope against hope that someday I’ll be the kind of man who can identify trees simply by looking at them; oh, that’s an elm, I’ll say someday, and everyone will be astonished, and I will be a successful man.  I want to impress people.  I worry so much about impressing people, while trying so very hard to not appear to be trying to impress them.  I don’t want to impress people with flashiness, but with content; I want to surprise people with my wit and intellect.  I suspect this is still not a positive trait.  And then there are things like train times, and bike tires, and inseams, and manscaping. Oh, the noise, the torrent of rushing life, it’s like the incessant beating of distant drums that will not stop, perhaps on a Friday night in the fall and it is the sound of a high school football game, just down the road in town, and the band is banging out a rousing rendition of some old classic, but it just won’t stop, won’t fade away, because that’s the real nature of things, isn’t it?  To not fade away? To persist, if only in memory or perception, and perception is where they get you.  And then there’s bills, of course, everyone hates bills, and the pulsating beat of work (go in! come back! go in! come back!) that heaves with the rise and fall of my sleeping chest as I dream about the same things that chase me as I’m awake, the bills and the Redbox notifications and the celebrities in the luxury cars or was it condos? Either way they want to ruin my life; either way I salivate at the thought of buying things—anything really—despite my abhorrence of it.  And it all (it’s all fears, really, right?) slops together in a big stew and rushes in frothy whitewater over the rocks (what are the rocks? Why, they’re everything, of course), rushes downhill without stopping forever in a painful deluge; at least, that’s what I thought.  That’s how it had always been. Then suddenly she floated downstream, too, and she found me and I held on.  Beyond her now I see the wide-open ocean, sloshing still, but not rushing and pounding—and behind us lay the rapids.  She bridges the gap, my estuary.

Sack Races Can Blank My Blank

Posted in Philly Journal, Rant/ Rave, Snippet, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on October 10, 2014 by sethdellinger

1.  It should be noted that, a mere two days ago, I did in fact participate in two sack races at a picnic.  That’s right, on some occasions, folks are still doing sack races.  But the important part:  I totally owned my competition both times.  I won by landslides.  I say this to gloat.  Because it is a rare moment indeed in my life when I find myself vanquishing opponents in any physical competition whatsoever–including leisure sports like pool and bowling.  So yeah.  Apparently I rule at sack racing.  However, it should also be duly noted that even now, 48 hours later, my lower abs hurt like crazy!  And I have been working my abs in workouts for a few weeks, so it’s not just from using unused muscles…there is something about sack races that MURDERS the abs, but especially, like…the very bottom ones.  I’m a scientist.

2.  You know who reads a lot?  Homeless people.  I’m not making some tasteless joke here, I’m serious.  At least in Philadelphia, whenever I see homeless people, I would say 50% of the time, they are reading something, and not always a newspaper, but often books.  I hear what some of you are about to say: They sure have plenty of free time to read!  Well sure, and I’m not sure what my point is with this, but it seemed like an observation worth making.  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

3.  So there are these two bands I like (don’t stop reading yet, this isn’t actually about the bands).  The bands are The War on Drugs and Sun Kil Moon.  Both bands are fairly recent discoveries for me.  Over the past month, a very odd “feud” has developed between these bands (who, while both “indie” bands, are not bands that would typically be grouped together or thought of at the same time).  The were both playing the same festival, on different stages, at the same time, and apparently War on Drugs’ sound was drowning out the sound of Sun Kil Moon.  Now, Sun Kil Moon is basically one guy, Mark Kozelek, a very outspoken eccentric who often makes waves in the indie community.  Kozelek writes great songs, then gets other folks to play them with him and calls that band Sun Kil Moon.  The War on Drugs is just a band.  Anyway, so War on Drugs is too loud for Mark Kolezek and he gets pissed at them, for some reason, and he says something like this onstage: “This next song is called ‘The War on Drugs Can Suck My Fucking Cock”.  Now, to make a really long story somewhat short: the indie music press loves feuds (who doesn’t?) and reported on this idiotic stage banter promptly, and Kozelek being the guy he is, he just kept making the problem worse and being extremely mean to War on Drugs for months now; for their part, War on Drugs has stayed mostly silent, seeing as they did truly nothing.  Sun Kil Moon went as far as to release, last week a song called “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock”.      You can read very interesting reporting from the feud as it went down here, or here, or here.

ANYWAY, here is what I want to talk about:  the very first time I read that story, I winced at Kozelek’s choice of words.  Suck my cock, while a slam I may have directed at many a male friend of mine over the years, is not a way I would choose to talk to today.  I don’t want to say I am evolved or enlightened, but I think it would be fair to say I am certainly MORE evolved or enlightened about this topic than I used to be.  The topic, as far as I can generally state it, is men using subtle violence and aggression in every day life to perpetuate the patriarchal society we’ve all come to inhabit; even as women gain a more visible foothold toward equality, men still casually sit with their legs wide open on trains, depriving women of proper legroom (your cock isn’t that big, guys), we use terms associated with the female anatomy to mean negative things (what does it mean when you so viciously call another person a pussy as if it is the last thing on earth you’d like to be?).  Men gawk at women as they walk past on the street as though nobody can tell–or that nobody should care.  And men like Mark Kozelek–ostensibly a very artistic, extremely intelligent man who skirts the edges of our culture in a way that one would assume means he’d be more enlightened–uses the language of male aggression to another man; the suggestion of this language goes deep (NO PUN FREAKIN’ INTENDED) and does more than hint at a latent hatred for homosexuality, not to even begin exploring what a mean-spirited “suck my cock” says about the speaker’s opinion about the women who, one would assume, have done so to him willingly.

Look, I know this line of thought seems “out there” to some people, maybe a little too new-agey. Being a male in today’s culture isn’t easy.  We still want to treat women nice and be chivalrous, but it’s tough to do that and play the equality game.  I get that.  We’re not always going to be perfect at it; ours is a culture in the middle of change, and it’s tough to keep up with that as individuals.  But really, at core, it’s easy.  Treat everyone correctly, and realize that language is also action.  The things couched in what you say are real and have meaning, not just academically, but to your listeners.  Realize that your actions in public, even if they seem benign–looking, where you sit or stand, things you say within earshot–can still reek of male supremacy.  Go ahead and hold the door open for your sweetheart (unless she’s told you to bugger off with that shit), but make sure you’re both standing beside each other at the Starbucks register.  Don’t be a fucking asshole.  What are your thoughts?


4.  As much as Mark Kozelek has pissed me off with his War on Drugs feud, his song (as Sun Kil Moon) “Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes” off this year’s new album Benji, is one of the best songs I’ve heard, not just this year, but in years:


5.  I like a lot of stuff.  I think I have made that fairly clear over the years.  And most people know that I love backscratchers.  But nobody has ever bought me a really good backscratcher.  #justsayin

Catching One

Posted in Prose with tags , , on October 8, 2014 by sethdellinger

Though the mouse opens its mouth there is no sound.  The head is full of gray space & the body careens as if at the end of a momentum.  The mouse is largely apathetic to greater things, no nose for news, no favorite fall TV show, only a vague indifference that tells us it is dead, is a dead mouse.  For the alacrity of the feet has ceased, & nothing suggests the mouse wishes to explore the mind, wander its outer banks.  The mouse lies sideways on balsawood like a surfer, anticipating waves with its tongue out.  We are rightly afraid of it, though, for it’s proof that we are the harshest monsters to that which we most dimly comprehend.

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