Sunday, October 2, 2011

sketches from pittsburgh

I haven't updated this blog in ages. These are sketches from a recent trip to Pittsburgh, along with some recent(ish) artsies and, because it was playing in the car, a song by Rufus Wainwright:


The factory is solid blue. Clouds rolls like butter from the smoke stacks. The windows are fogged yellow. I can't see inside, but imagine the factory full of cartoon rabbits. The rabbits have pink eyes. They are not human-rabbits. They are rabbit-rabbits.

"Industry makes this city beautiful," says the writer at the artist collective across from the factory. The writer is published. His book is called Black Holes, but is mostly about deer; still, people think black holes are the main problem because they're always sucking up things, namely deer. Deer are disappearing at an alarming rate. Soon they will be extinct.

What people don't say is that most deer walk willingly into the black holes. They know the deer do this, but pretend they don't because they can't imagine why a beautiful animal with long legs and brown eyes would want to disappear.

The black holes are not in outer space. They are in the banks of the Allegheny River. The black holes are steel pipes. Before walking into a pipe, a deer will look back at the person watching them, who is always you.

Every deer looks back.


I'm drawing ghost dogs again.
I haven't drawn them in ages. I thought I had forgotten them, but no, there's a lolling tongue, the sound of panting.
White, Steamboat Willy eyes.
Long shadows.
No legs.

I was 8 years old when I saw Old Yeller die. In fourth grade, I read about two coon hounds whose intestines were torn out by a mountain lion. The boy they belonged to--who belonged to them--buried the dogs together. A red fern grew between their graves.

Where I'm from, there's a lot of space. There are a million malls and radio towers and computers. I'm connected to everything, especially my dead dog.

No, really, I am. There's an underground wire connecting me to to Shrimpy, the border collie that bit off my dad's thumb. My dad was upset because he couldn't play his 1954 Martin Guitar thumbless . He said Shrimpy had rabies, so we took him to the vet. The vet said "put him to sleep."
This means kill.

After killing Shrimpy, we buried him under the holly tree in our backyard. The earth was webbed with little white roots. One of the roots caught me by the wrist. It buried itself in the vein where, if I concentrate, I can feel my pulse.

I feel Shrimpy's pulse too, if the rain is hard enough. If the trees are bare enough. If my guitar isn't tuned.

The ghost dog on my paper has a speech bubble. The bubble says "woof."


In the tree where hipsters tie their bikes, a sparrow puffs his chest, shakes water from his wings, then looks me in the eye as if to say "Well, haven't you gone soft with your open-back dress and peppermint tea?"

Rain falls with the specific random of pointillism, rippling dots under the heels of Hepburnian women passing quickly under their umbrellas. The cafe is a warm, well-lit place.

I miss the anonymity of the city. The man at the other table has long curling lashes that scan paper where, with long curling hands, he sketches cats. The cats have long curling tails.

Sometimes the man looks at me. Sometimes I look back.
When i leave the cafe, I will never see him again.

Thank God!


Driving back, we stop to let a train pass. It's almost morning. Flashing lights outline the freight, piles of dirt barely visible over the box cars.

The dirt is coal. Coal is dirt that used to be trees. When the trees died, they were buried under tar and dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. The pressure from the tar and dead animals turned the trees to dirt.

One day, a human accidentally set the dirt on fire. The dirt burned and burned. The human used the dirt to heat his house and cook his deer. Later, humans used the dirt to generate electricity. They dug past the tar and dead animals and pulled up the trees that weren't yet coal to get to the trees that were coal.

Graffiti covers the train, red and orange ghosts with electric blue outlines. Written on the caboose is a wobbly sentence:

This isn't fun anymore


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A story in less than 500 words: "How did these Olives Get Like This?"

The hot tub had 242 jets. Tame, lazy whirlpools churned water blue as the cover on my dad’s Jimmy Buffet record. Jacob’s dad--tan, gold chains reflecting in his glass funnel, something I later learned was a grail for $8 drinks—nodded vaguely from his bubbling throne as we went inside.

Air conditioning swooshed my hair. My house didn’t have air conditioning.

“This is my dad’s big screen,” Jacob pressed one button on a hundred-button remote. We watched Angry Beavers as his mom talked to the dog in the kitchen.

“Who’s a good Rascal? Do you want a treat? Does Rascal want a treat? Jacob,” his mom stuck her cotton-candy head into the living room. “Ask your friend if she wants to meet Rascal.”

I smelled the dog before I saw him, cartoon stink waves with alternating squiggles of Toilet and Bologna. His mom carried a wriggling dreadlock into the living room and--- with the smile of someone showing off a particularly new, particularly profound piece of art---plopped it between us.

The smell intensified. I started breathing through my mouth.

“This is Rascal,” explained Jacob.

The dreadlock sneezed. I put my hand on what I thought was a head but was probably an anus.

Jacob glowed. “Do you have a dog?”

“Cat.” I moved my hand away. Paws gummed my thighs. With all the curiosity and determination of a once-a-year aunt, the dreadlock launched a harrowing invasion of my personal space. A cold nose smeared my skin as—horror of horrors! —a tongue slithered from a wet orifice and painted my face with slugs.

Before leaving home, my mom told me to “behave, because they’re not like the people on our block.” She hand washed my Lion King sippy cup before putting it on a rack to dry. “They’re not our people.”

I didn’t know who Our People were, or if I was even one of them, just that it was very hard to behave, was in fact impossible, with slugs staining my face. I slapped the dog.

Jacob’s mom made a sound like a balloon filling very quickly. Jacob stared at me in a combination of horror and what I imagined was admiration for a display of violence usually reserved for loud, grown-up movies that played in other rooms.

Slugs dribbled from my chin.

“I'm calling your mother” His mom’s voice was soft, evil.

I ran.

The door didn't slam, rather chimed behind me. Everything smelled like shitty bologna. Gasping for breath, I dunked my head in the hot tub.

242 jets bubbled dully. The water was hotter than I expected, but I stayed under, eyes squinting as I compressed myself to a single drop, tiny, invisible.

When I surfaced my head was steaming. Jacob’s dad tapped his glass funnel:

“How did these olives get like this?"

Friday, August 26, 2011

After the witch sucked out my bones, I traveled all over looking for branches to replace them.

Sometimes I traveled with other people. Often I traveled alone.
I had been traveling alone for a while
when I came across a cow (a "cow" is a female elephant)
crying. Her eyes were dry, the tears--great, fat drops
the size of sparrows--falling instead

from her ears. Her ears were not elephant ears;

rather, elephant-shaped
human ears. While deaf to the paw falls
of lions, they were finely tuned

to heartbreak. When I was a kid, or more of one, I wondered
why elephant tears were so special. Watching the cow wipe her ear
with her trunk, balancing a tear like a penny wobbling
tails-down, I saw that the tear was special

not because of it's extraordinary way of falling
from her ear, but because of its ordinary way
of falling at music from a passing car, soft, fleeting---

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Poem: El Cambio

El Cambio

Viva Gitano, you say, Living Gypsy, and the taste

of Turkish coffee has never been so strong, cups boiling

as our fledgling necks stretch

over the edge. Pájarita, the roof will always be hot.

Beneath our spitting tongues streetlights hum

with dog throats, out-of tune instruments barking

birds that burst rainbow sand, a city where everything

is music. Somewhere, a bottle breaks,

and the lawn chair acrobats roll

their smokesweatsalt into papers so thin they could be dying

leaves. The only tree in our concrete

hookah camp is a browning hand, over-ripe thumbs uncurling

like the fist of God. Rumi sang about a religion

my parents didn’t belong to, and I swallowed

his magic lanterns until fireflies

rattled my wrists, bones blooming not with seasonal

bulbs but with a single banana tree whose undying

leaves were never smoked. A yellow page swooshed

me to the rooftop, attic stairs rotting to New England

mulch, a front porch. Ivy League graffiti scrawled

Change; I memorized which way was East.

Dog throats sing without mouths, walking

flutes puffing musicartphilosophies that rise

over the rooftops, a grape leaf unfolding. You give

me a piece of paper: El Cambio:

As I wrote this sentence, someone threw a chair

into the street.


look out the window and listen to this song:

Saturday, July 23, 2011

black horses

I painted a horse skeleton on a slice of tree.
Spiders poured out of the wood. I hate spiders but love horses so I sucked in my skin and slopped on the Burnt Sienna.

The oil paints were skinny and wet. I suggest acrylics.

I'm designing tattoos for friends while postponing my own. I want the bone of my left forearm tattooed on my...left forearm.

The image means a lot to me, but the absolute Thingyness of it comes from Thoreau's Walden:

"I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life..."

bone sketch. Photo by Shelby Ursu

I want to wake up and see my marrow. I want to remember that I'm dying.

Another bone sketch. Photo by Shelby Ursu.

Supporting this Thingyness are lyrics from The Antler's song "Two":

There was glass in my feet and raining down from the ceiling
it opened up the scars that had just finished healing
it tore apart the canyon running down your femur
(i thought that it was beautiful, it made me a believer)

The song is from Hospice, a record I still write about because the time of my life when I listened to it never ended; I changed, but the feeling was folded into my marrow. Communicating this experience has been the main objective of my creative work, and will be for a long time.

In Soviet Russia, bone sketches you! Photo by Shelby Ursu.

As usual, what's stopping me from getting a tattoo is the damns people give. Tattoos are the new statement T-shirts. I'm afraid of seeming fescious.

Then there's the generation of people I see only on Christmas and Easter, the ones whose parents brought home Slinkeys and who were already in graduate school when Jimi Hendrix set his guitar on fire. I love these people dearly. That said, getting a tattoo for them can mean only two things: (1) A pledge to the Black Panthers, the KKK, or the U.S. Navy, or (2) A way of upsetting your poor grandmother.

I don't know if I'll get the tattoo. I'll decide tomorrow, or the next week, or two years from now. As long as my furniture is ugly and my music is good I don't mind waiting. I quoted this song earlier, but in the words of a fictional Bob Dylan, "A poem is a naked person; a song is something that walks."

Two by The Antlers (Excuse the background babble, but the live version really is the more beautiful) :