On sale

The rush to win
In the loud clutter
Of things I buy on sale,
Kidding myself, one more time.
That I’ve caught some weary seller
Off guard, before the doors close,
My two twenty dollar bills
Kissing the air between my wallet
And the cashier,
Convinced, in my delusion,
That I have stolen a victory
From another fool.


Manchester by the Sea, a review

I used to believe that I was emotionally resilient. After experiencing Kenneth Lonergan’s film, “Manchester By The Sea,” I’m not so sure.

We first meet the central character, Lee Chandler, as a brooding, angry maintenance worker who manages to piss off or frustrate some of the tenants in one of the apartment buildings where he works. In the next scene, he starts a barroom brawl.

We don’t find out anything else about Lee’s life until one flashback reveals his alcoholic carelessness when he runs out of beer one night and walks to the store, forgetting to put the protective screen in front of the fire in the home fireplace. As he returns from the store, he hears fire sirens and runs up to see his home in flames and his distraught wife being gurneyed into the ambulance. His two children are lifted out of the rubble in black plastic bags.

From that traumatic moment, his psyche is frozen in emotional withdrawal and rage, two reactions he can little afford when he receives a phone call informing him that his brother has just died from a massive heart attack. 

In a moment he is totally unprepared for, a lawyer informs him that his brother appointed him legal guardian of his teen-age nephew.

The rest of the film chronicles the uneven relationship with the nephew in moments of dark humor, raw honesty and the nephew’s casual and often comic sexual experiences.

One of the more poignant scenes happens when the nephew has a short-lived emotional break down when frozen meat keeps falling out of the freezer, reminding him that his father’s body has to stay in a morgue freezer because the cemetery ground in the winter is too hard to dig through for his father’s grave.

The nephew, the film is clear in telling us, is far more emotionally vulnerable and open than his uncle, who finally admits he can’t “beat” the darkness of his own personal trauma in being responsible for his children’s deaths. In addition to trying to adapt to his role as guardian, he makes at least one attempt at emotional expansiveness when he sells his brother’s guns to pay for a new motor for the nephew’s inherited boat.

Many of the town’s residents still hold him responsible for his family tragedy. His ex-wife is one of the exceptions when she makes a vain attempt to have him admit he still loves her, after she makes her own admission. In a typical dark Lonergan moment, she reveals her feelings even though she’s remarried and is out strolling her newly born infant when the chance meeting with Lee happens.

Lee is presented with a series of vulnerability and compassion moments from other people, cumulative examples that life still has worth—from the medical staff in the hospital where his brother dies to his nephew’s open moments of vulnerability to his own memories of his brother’s deep affection for him and his ex-wife’s fragile and risky admission that she still loves him.

In the final scene, Lee and his nephew are out on the family boat fishing. He has forfeited his guardianship and plans to return to Boston. He has chosen, in the end, not to move out of his soul’s bleak darkness. As the Romans would say, “Noli Me Tangere” (a loose translation—“let nothing touch me”)


William Pitt, My Blind Grandfather

He was blind, his eyes suffocated
Into silence,
In his grief, imagining,
His body’s stark opposition to
The innocent flow
Of children in bow ties
And full pink skirts,
Or an aging oak’s
Craggy shreds of skin
Once seen by the
Boy he used to be,
Eyes wide open,
Squinting against
An orgy of sun
His pupils knew
Could not absorb.

But now, in old age,
His eyes cannot remember
What they saw yesterday,
Austere, naked emptiness,
Burglarized by time,
Bargaining with his body
To hear more than
He could endure



I suppose I could choose
To sing right now,
Maybe even dance,
Listening to the reedy
Breaths of woodwinds,
Which have no lives
Of their own,
Packed as they are
In attic cardboard boxes
Next to my grandmother’s
Lace shawl and my brother’s
Stained love letters.

No, today I will just sit
On the couch
And stare, remembering
Eleanor Winnowicz
Who sat on her summer porch
Repeating her favorite phrase,
“Goddamned dogs
Never amounted to anything,”
Every time Bess Swarthmore
Walked by with her
Two leashed Siamese.


“Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage,” a Review


Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki And His Years of Pilgrimage
Haruki Murakami
Vintage International, 2015
314 pp

Magic Realism, Interiority, Bildungsroman Tradition

Haruki Murakami appears to have captured the imaginations of a lot of readers. And that’s saying a lot because he is not a writer who seems to be satisfied with just a story line.

In two other novels I have read, he clearly mixes his own brand of magic realism (fantasy, dream narratives, science fiction, fable) and a very realistic narrative (It would be an understatement to say that Murakami does not shy away from sex or death. He also manages to blend the murder mystery genre into some of his stories).

He is also a writer who has a strong interior sensibility and appears to be particularly drawn to millenials.

A third motif of Murakami’s fiction is a penchant for story lines that resemble the Bildungsroman tradition (stories about self-knowledge journeys, usually about younger protagonists moving through a variety of intense rites of passage). Continue reading


Nothing May Really Be Something

The Ancient Chinese Concept of Wu

I continue to be mesmerized by the ancient Chinese notion of Wu, which, in the Dao De Ching (Tao Te Ching), is referred to as “nothingness, emptiness, non-existence.”

In Verse 11, Lao Tsu gives us examples of how “emptiness” has an importance:

  • The hole at the center of a wheel hub “allows the wheel to spin”
  • The space within a clay cup “allows the cup to hold water”
  • A doorway enables us to walk through to another room

So, my friends, the Dao is telling us that a doorway and the hollowed-out space of a cup may appear, at first glance, to have no value. But we all know that a cup is made to “contain” liquid, that a doorway makes it possible for someone to pass through it. Continue reading


Individualism, The Dream Realized

Following Their Own Paths

Let’s just imagine a group of Americans who have chosen to create and follow their own individual paths of self-fulfillment by separating themselves from traditional careers, institutionalized churches, political parties, and the American obsession with consumption.

Continuing on this narrative, imagine this group forming a very viable sub-culture of renters, musicians, writers, part-timers, sweat-lodge devotees, meditators, campers, vegetarians, used-car owners, and consignment-store buyers.

They don’t save. They have no pensions. They don’t have a mortgage. They don’t have cable. They only accept cash for their labor. They hate malls. They keep their shopping moments to a minimum. And they don’t have any health insurance. Continue reading


Magdalene (20)

On yet another night,
She waited for George
To come home.
He didn’t.

Looking up at the solid sky.
She heard the bustle
Of separate voices,
Whispering their pallid secrets
Of other women, who,
In their nakedness,
Hummed muted tunes
To her sprinter husband,
As brief, in his fidelity,
As a toll booth’s hand.


Magdalene (2)

Her memory,
Like a maimed horse,
Was put down,
Itself, a faint recollection
Of things forgotten,
Misplaced, a frayed pocket
Beyond repair.

Tubes of frozen toothpaste
In the freezer,
Dusty combs
Under the hot-water heater,
A letter from a
Teen-age boyfriend
Under her mattress,
A wristwatch
On a windowsill,
Catching the precision
Of the sun’s lazy arch.