Publications
Goddess of the Sixties Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Brigitte_Bardot_Swinging_Sixties_7897874(Cimarron Review Number 103, April 1993)

During the flowering of the sixties, in my suburban Kirkwood, Missouri, high school, I was carried away with lust and devotion for my female classmate, Jan Will. Blessed with an invitation for a name, Jan was a stunningly gorgeous girl whom I discovered the first week of tenth grade. For most of my high school years, an uncontrollable passion for her occupied my body as intently as that Beatles’ anthem to male fantasy, “I Saw Her Standing There,” rocked my boot heels, spread to my loins, and settled inside to gestate like Rosemary’s Baby. “She was just seventeen, if you know what I mean, and the way she looked was way beyond compare.” Elvis Presley, our other idol, once said of rock-and-roll music, “I don’t know how to explain it, but when I hear that beat, I just got-tah move. I can’t help it.” Like the King, I couldn’t help it either. I had to have her.

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Autobiographies of the Present Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

frederick_douglass2(Boulevard Spring 1993)

If ever there was an autobiography whose focus is almost entirely given to the author’s past, it is Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of An American Slave. So irrevocable is the physical and psychological abuse he received as a slave that Douglass, writing as a free man, must continually describe that abuse as if his past were a nightmare from which he can never completely awaken. For example, in Chapter V, he writes of being kept, in summer and winter, "almost naked—no shoes, no stockings, no jacket, no trousers, nothing on but a coarse tow linen shirt, reaching only to my knees." On the coldest nights, he used a corn sack, stolen from the mill, to cover himself while he slept. He would crawl inside the sack and sleep, "with my head in and my feet out." But then, unexpectedly, his description seems to rouse another level of awareness: "My feet have been so cracked with the frost, that the pen with which I am writing might be laid in the gashes."

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The Sacred Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

sacredheart(Chicago Reader December 15, 1992)

I was ten years old the first time I protected my father from what had happened to him when he was a boy in his father’s house. Of course I know I wasn’t there to protect him during his boyhood as he was there to protect me during mine. But there was a time, and a place, when our separate, bitter lessons about growing up came together, when the pain he endured as a boy awakened a desire in me to save him from his past.

What happened takes me back, strangely, to the times my family was closest—the holidays. We were usually away from home on holidays, driving to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Easter, Thanksgiving, or Labor Day weekend. But those dates hardly compared to the biggest prize—one precious week when parents, grandparents, and children indulged each other and themselves at Christmas. Christmas for me was a long window onto a table of love dressed with gifts, darkness, surprises, ease; when the men stopped working and the women labored with few complaints.

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The Hollow Boy Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

boy(Cream City Review Volume 16, Number 2, Fall 1992)

My mother is cracking an egg on the rim of a bowl. The egg falls in, and its yolk breaks, streaming a curl of yellow. A cup of milk, a stick of butter, and Betty Crocker cake mix follow.

The bowl is made of clear, thick glass. On its bottom there is a metal base in which the big bowl can be set, turned, and locked in place. Once locked, the elliptical steel prongs, attached to the arm of the mixer, descend into the batter. On its top is a dial with settings—slow (bread dough), medium (cake batter), fast (frosting or whipping cream).

The mixer whirls, and my mother says, “There. Now.” Her hands stroke down on her apron. The appliance is called a Mix­master, and it runs while she pulls open the silver-handled door of the refrigerator and puts the milk and butter back in.

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The Lure and the Deep Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_1891(San Diego Writers' Monthly April 1992)

Eight floors up in a college dormitory conference room that overlooks the University of California campus and the dark blond beaches of the blue Pacific, I am finishing a long discussion with a writing student. Max. The one who waits. The one who ponders everything I say. Who wants me to tell him more about what’s really wrong with his work, the pained yielding behind those round glasses I can’t help but conjure in a young John Lennon. Behind him, through the sliding glass doors and beyond the railed ledge, is the water.

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On the Poetry of James Wright Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

3305598771_2112eb333e(Poetry Flash Number 220, July 1991; revised March 2011)

1.

My regard for James Wright’s poetry is something I have always found difficult to describe. It is made that much harder when before me I have his Above the River: The Complete Poems, holding potentially a new and unassimilated view of his work. To read and write about his entire opus will unloosen the spell, comfortable and known, which a few of his poems have had over me for decades. That spell was cast first in 1967 when I read his brilliant poem, “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota.”

Some ache lingers from that poem’s ending irony to the pastoral landscape Wright created: “a chicken hawk floats over, looking for home./ I have wasted my life.”

I have not wasted my life because I feel more sensitive to the world and the unconscious because of his poetry. I wonder, though, if this posthumous volume will not change my sense of the kind of poet Wright was.

The rest of this critical essay is available in eBook form from Amazon.com: "On the Poetry of James Wright" $2.99.

 
Public Pain Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

73(San Diego Reader July 5, 1990)

Yesterday during a morning nap, Mrs. Jo Anglemire, a downstairs neighbor at the apartment complex where I live and the wife of Val, the maintenance man, died. I came home around noon, arriving moments after their adult daughter had heard the news. As I walked up, I could hear her shouting repeatedly, “No, not my mommy!” and “Daddy! Daddy! Make Mommy come back!” The words cut the air like mad hornets.

I walked up to their apartment. The screen door was propped open. Three people were in the living room. One man, tall and gaunt, stood alone. The other, heavy-set with shorts and long socks, stood holding the woman who wailed. The large man stood still, in an eerie frieze—arms clamped around her as she pushed her head up and screamed. He held tightly, her head giddy as if under the broadside of a fire hose. Leaning against the outside wall was a white-cushioned stretcher. I slumped against the doorjamb.

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